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Title: War and the Arme Blanche
Author: Childers, Erskine
Language: English
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                        WAR AND THE ARME BLANCHE

                            WAR AND THE ARME


                            ERSKINE CHILDERS


                        WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

                             THE RIGHT HON.

                 FIELD-MARSHAL EARL ROBERTS, V.C., K.G.

                             EDWARD ARNOLD

                        [_All rights reserved_]


  CHAPTER                                                        PAGE


  I.      THE ISSUE AND ITS IMPORTANCE                              1
  II.     THE THREEFOLD PROBLEM                                    21
          I.     THE PHYSICAL PROBLEM                              21
          II.    THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM                         35
          III.   THE PROBLEM OF TRAINING                           40
  III.    BRITISH AND BOER MOUNTED TROOPS                          46
  IV.     ELANDSLAAGTE                                             61
  V.      FROM ELANDSLAAGTE TO THE BLACK WEEK                      70
  VI.     COLESBERG AND KIMBERLEY                                  85
  VII.    PAARDEBERG AND POPLAR GROVE                             113
  VIII.   THE RELIEF OF LADYSMITH                                 150
  IX.     BLOEMFONTEIN TO KOMATI POORT                            168
  X.      THE GUERILLA WAR                                        210
  XI.     MOUNTED CHARGES  IN SOUTH AFRICA                        239
  XII.    A PECULIAR WAR?                                         261
  XIII.   BERNHARDI AND "CAVALRY TRAINING"                        292
  XIV.    THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR                                  327
  XV.     REFORM                                                  354
          I.     STUDY                                            354
          II.    NOMENCLATURE                                     356
          III.   ARMAMENT OF CAVALRY                              357
          IV.    MOUNTED INFANTRY                                 366
          V.     YEOMANRY                                         368
          VI.    IMPERIAL MOUNTED TROOPS                          370
          VII.   CONCLUSION                                       371
          INDEX                                                   373


                 FIELD-MARSHAL EARL ROBERTS, V.C., K.G.

I have read with the greatest interest Mr. Childers’s illuminating book
“War and the Arme Blanche.” My opinion of the subject with which it
deals is already so well known throughout the army that I need not
labour to say how entirely I agree with the author’s main thesis;
indeed, anyone who will take the trouble to read “Cavalry Training”
(1904), will see that I anticipated the arguments which he has so ably
developed. This being so, it is not surprising that I should view the
regulations laid down in “Cavalry Training” (1907), with some concern.

Let us consider briefly what the history of this question—the
comparative value of steel weapons and firearms for Cavalry in war—is.
Until within the last few years our Lancer regiments depended entirely
on the lance and sword, while other Cavalry regiments depended almost
entirely on the sword.[1] This was inevitable because of the inaccuracy
and short range of the smooth-bore carbine. Tentative changes were made
when rifled arms were adopted, but it is only within the last thirty
years that Lancer regiments have had any firearm given to them save a
pistol.[2] With such an equipment and such traditions it was perhaps but
natural that the training of Cavalry should have been almost exclusively
devoted to shock tactics and the use of the _arme blanche_.


Footnote 1:

  No reference was made to the lance in the 1904 Regulations, because
  that weapon had been discarded as practically useless, owing to the
  introduction of breech-loading rifles. Now, unfortunately, the lance
  has been reintroduced—a retrograde movement. The lance is a positive
  impediment to dismounted action, as it adds greatly to the difficulty
  of led horses being moved forward when the men advance. In other
  words, it ties the men to the horses.

Footnote 2:

  When the 9th Lancers were ordered to join my column on Field Service
  in Kuram in 1879, carbines had to be served out to them, and the men
  had to be put through a hurried course of musketry.


But why now, with a different equipment, should Cavalry still be trained
on the old tradition, and their rifles reside in buckets attached to the
horse, only to be used on certain exceptional occasions to “supplement
the sword or lance”? (“Cavalry Training,” sec. 142.)

The late Colonel Henderson, in his essay on the tactical employment of
Cavalry, “Science of War,” chapter iii., page 51, pointed out that,
notwithstanding the introduction of gunpowder, the Cavalry was the arm
that had undergone the least change. He went on to say that
“shock-tactics, the charge, and the hand-to-hand encounter are still the
one ideal of Cavalry action; and the power of manœuvring in great
masses, maintaining an absolute uniformity of pace and formation, and
moving at the highest speed with accurately dressed ranks, is the
criterion of excellence.” He added: “to such an extent has this teaching
been carried out, that the efficiency of the individual, especially in
those duties which are performed by single men or small parties, cannot
fairly be said to have received due attention.”

After explaining how Cromwell’s troopers “were taught the value of
co-operation,” and how “Cromwell built up his Cavalry on a foundation of
high individual efficiency,” he goes on to show that, “as time went on
and armies became larger, and skill at arms, as a national
characteristic, rarer, drill, discipline, manœuvre in mass, and a
high degree of mobility came to outweigh all other considerations; and
when the necessity of arming the nations brought about short service,
the training of the individual, in any other branch of his business than
that of riding boot-to-boot and of rendering instant obedience to the
word or signal of his superior, fell more and more into abeyance.
Shock-tactics filled the entire bill, and the Cavalry of Europe,
admirably trained to manœuvre and attack, whether by the squadron of
150 sabres, or the division of 3,000 or 4,000, was practically unfitted
for any other duty. The climax of incompetency may be said to have been
reached during the cycle of European warfare, which began with the
Crimea, and ended with the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1877–78. The old
spirit of dash and daring under fire was still conspicuous, discipline
and mobility were never higher. The regiments manœuvred with
admirable precision at the highest speed, and never had great masses of
horsemen been more easily controlled. And yet, in the whole history of
war, it may be doubted whether the record of the Cavalry was ever more

Referring specially to the German Cavalry during the war of 1870–71,
Henderson says: “The troopers knew nothing whatever of fighting on
foot—their movements were impeded by their equipment--and a few
_Francs-tireurs_, armed with the chassepot, were enough to paralyze a
whole brigade.... In fact, to the student who follows out the operations
of the Cavalry of 1870–71 step by step, and who bears in mind its
deficiencies in armament and training, it will appear very doubtful
whether a strong body of mounted riflemen of the same type as the Boers,
or better still, of Sheridan’s or Stuart’s Cavalry in the last years of
the War of Secession, would not have held the German horsemen at bay
from the first moment they crossed the frontier.”

“Had the successes gained by shock-tactics been very numerous, it might
possibly be argued that the sacrifice of efficiency in detached and
dismounted duties, as well as the training of the individual, was fully
justified. What are the facts?” After enumerating the successes gained
by shock-tactics from the days of the Crimea onwards, when anything
larger than a regiment was engaged, Henderson adds: “Such is the record:
one great tactical success gained at Custozza: a retreating army saved
from annihilation at Königgrätz,[3] and five minor successes which may
or may not have influenced the ultimate issue. Not one single instance
of an effective and sustained pursuit; not one single instance—except
Custozza, and there the Infantry was armed with muzzle-loaders—of a
charge decisive of the battle; not one single instance of Infantry being
scattered and cut down in panic flight; not one single instance of a
force larger than a brigade intervening at a critical moment. And how
many failures? How often were the Cavalry dashed vainly in reckless
gallantry against the hail of a thin line of rifles! How often were
great masses held back inactive, without drawing a sabre or firing a
shot, while the battle was decided by the Infantry and the guns! How few
the enterprises against the enemy’s communications! How few men killed
or disabled, even when Cavalry met Cavalry in the mêlée! Can it be said
in face of these facts that the devotion to shock-tactics, the constant
practice in massed movements, the discouragement of individualism, both
in leaders and men, was repaid by results? Does it not rather appear
that there was some factor present on the modern battle-field which
prevented the Cavalry, trained to a pitch hitherto unknown, from reaping
the same harvest as the horsemen of previous eras? Was not the attempt
to apply the same principles to the battle of the breech-loader and the
rifled cannon, as had been applied successfully to the battles of the
smooth-bore, a mistake from beginning to end; and should not the
Cavalry, confronted by new and revolutionary conditions, have sought new
means of giving full effect to the mobility which makes it


Footnote 3:

  Of Königgrätz it would probably be more accurate to say that the
  Austrian Cavalry neutralized the Prussian Cavalry. It was the
  formidable row of Austrian guns that saved the Austrian army.

Footnote 4:

  Eight years have elapsed since Henderson wrote these words. When they
  were penned the records of the South African War were not at his
  disposal, and the Manchurian War had still to be fought. The histories
  of these two campaigns only confirm his views, for during four years
  of war it is impossible to find more than a few instances, and these
  all trivial, of the successful use of the _arme blanche_.


Since Colonel Henderson, no one has dealt so exhaustively and so
logically with this aspect of Cavalry in war as Mr. Childers. He has
gone thoroughly into the achievements of our Cavalry in South Africa. It
has been said that this war was abnormal, but are not all wars abnormal?
As, however, it was the first war in which magazine rifles were made use
of, and as the weapon used in future wars is certain to be even more
effective, on account of the lower trajectory and automatic mechanism
about to be introduced, shall we not be very unwise if we do not profit
by the lessons we were taught at such a heavy cost during that war?

These, then, are Mr. Childers’s conclusions in reviewing the period from
the beginning of the campaign up to March, 1900:

"Widening our horizon to include the whole area of the war at this
period, we perceive that Cavalry theory, so far as it was based on the
_arme blanche_, had collapsed. The only and not especially remarkable
achievement of that weapon is the pursuit at Elandslaagte on the second
day of hostilities. Everywhere else we have seen it directly or
indirectly crippling the Cavalry, and the greater the numbers employed
and the larger the measure of independence permitted, the more
unmistakable is the weakness. When the Cavalry succeed strategically, as
in the ride to Kimberley and back to Paardeberg, they succeed in spite
of disabilities traceable to _arme blanche_ doctrine. When they succeed
tactically, as in the Colesberg operations, and in containing Cronje’s
force on the eve of Paardeberg, they succeed through the carbine, in
spite of its inferiority as a weapon of precision. In tactical offence,
the paramount _raison d’être_ of the _arme blanche_, they fail, and in
reconnaissance they fail."

With every word of this I agree, and it must be remembered that my
judgment is based upon personal and first-hand knowledge. Why did our
Cavalry fail? Because they did not know, because they had never been
required to know, how to use the principal and most useful weapon with
which they were armed. Because they did not understand, because they had
never been asked to understand, that their rôle should consist in
attacking the enemy “exactly like the Infantry,[5] and to shoot their
way up to him.”[6]


Footnote 5:

  I do not mean to reflect in any way on those in authority before the
  South African War for not having anticipated the power conferred by
  the magazine rifle and smokeless powder. But I submit that in “Cavalry
  Training” (1904) the lesson had been learnt, and the Manchurian War
  has surely confirmed the decision reached in 1904.

Footnote 6:

  Bernhardi, p. 60. Mr. Goldman’s translation, second edition, of
  General von Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars.”


In this matter of shooting their way up to their enemy, Cavalry possess
great advantages owing to their mobility. General French’s admirable
movement at Klip Drift was essentially a rapid advance of fighting men
carried out at extended intervals. It was a rapid advance of warriors
who possessed the ability, by means of horses and rifles (not swords or
lances), to place their enemy _hors de combat_. It was an ideal Cavalry
operation, but it was not a “Cavalry charge,” as this term is generally
understood, and the _arme blanche_ had nothing to say to it.

In the preface to “Cavalry Training” (1904), I laid down that such an
operation was sound in principle. I went farther—I encouraged it—and
there is no doubt that on many occasions such an advance will have a far
greater effect than a methodical advance on foot. But, such an advance
must be essentially a rapid advance of fighting men armed with rifles,
and the threat lies in the power of the rifle.

In the same Preface I pointed out that the rifle, which “will chiefly be
required when dismounted, must be carried on the person of the soldier
himself.” The necessity for this was brought very prominently to my
notice during the fight in the Chardeh Valley, near Kabul, on December
11, 1879. On that occasion more than forty carbines were lost by the 9th
Lancers, two weak squadrons of which regiment, numbering only 213 men,
took part in the engagement. Partly owing to the rough nature of the
ground, and partly to the enemy’s fire, several horses fell, and before
the men could disengage the carbines from the buckets the Afghans were
upon them. Without their firearms the dismounted Cavalry were quite
helpless, and it was a sorry spectacle to behold these men, with their
swords dangling between their legs and impeding their movements, while
they vainly endeavoured to defend themselves with their lances. This
incident confirmed the experience I had gained in the Mutiny as to the
necessity for the firearm being attached to the man instead of to the
horse, and I at once issued orders for this change to be made, and for
the sword—which is only required to be used when the soldier is
mounted—to be carried on the saddle.

The strongest opposition to these alterations was made by Cavalry
officers in this country, and it was not until 1891—twelve years after
it had been adopted in Afghanistan—that sanction was accorded to the
_men’s_ swords being carried on the saddles. Eleven years more had to
pass before _officers_ were authorized (Army Order, June 1, 1902) to
have their swords similarly carried. But the rifle is still being
carried on the horse, and, if this arrangement is not changed, the
result will certainly be that, if a man gets upset and separated from
his horse in a fight, he will have neither sword nor rifle with which to
defend himself. This is not the case in India, where the rifle,
supported by a small bucket, is attached to the man, so that when he
dismounts the rifle goes with him.[7]


Footnote 7:

  I may point out here that General von Bernhardi agrees with this. On
  page 176 (Mr. Goldman’s translation) he says: “The sword should
  therefore be attached to the saddle, the carbine to the man, as is, in
  fact, the practice of all races of born horsemen.”


I trust that thirty years will not again be allowed to elapse before we
take to heart and act upon the main lesson to be learned from the Boer
and Russo-Japanese Wars, and in a lesser degree from every war that has
taken place since the introduction of breech-loading arms. That lesson
is, that knee to knee, close order charging is practically a thing of
the past. There may be, there probably will be, mounted attacks,
preferably in open order, against Cavalry caught unawares, or against
broken Infantry. But, after reading Mr. Childers’s book, backed by my
own practical experience, I am driven to the conclusion that the only
possible logical deduction from the history of late wars is, that all
attacks can now be carried out far more effectually with the rifle than
with the sword.

At the same time I do not go so far as the author in thinking that the
sword should be done away with altogether. It is desirable that Cavalry
soldiers, equally with their comrades in the Infantry, should have a
steel weapon of some kind for use in the assault by night, in a mist, or
on other occasions when a fire-fight might be impossible or inadvisable.
Instead, however, of the present sword, the Cavalry soldier would be
more suitably equipped with a sword-bayonet for fixing on the rifle when
fighting on foot—something like that with which our rifle regiments were
formerly armed—but made with a substantial handle, large enough to be
firmly gripped, so that in the event of its being required it could be
used on horseback as well as on foot. This sword-bayonet must, of
course, be attached to the man.

The two essentials of Cavalry in the present day are mobility and the
power to use the rifle with effect. Unless Cavalry is mobile it is
practically useless, as is proved over and over again in the pages of
this book. It is by saving their horses in every possible way, and by
skill in the use of the rifle, that Cavalry soldiers can hope to carry
out properly the many important functions required of them in advance
of, at a distance from, and in conjunction with, the main army. Further,
as the rifle is the weapon which will enable Cavalry to be of the most
real value in co-operating with the other arms on the actual field of
battle, Cavalry soldiers must not only be good shots, but they must be
taught how to fight as Infantry.

Owing to the enormous increase in recent years in the numbers which now
constitute a modern army, the strategical area in which Cavalry will
have to operate must inevitably be of considerable extent. Owing also to
the increased size of armies on the actual battle-field, and to the
extended formations necessitated by the long-reaching effect of modern
weapons, the strain upon the Cavalry horses is infinitely greater than
in former days, and unless men are taught to take every possible care of
their horses, Cavalry will be unable to co-operate with the other arms
when their services are most urgently needed—perhaps at a critical
period of the fight—or to follow up and harass a retreating enemy.

It is impossible to over-estimate the value of Cavalry—trained as I
should wish to see them trained—under the existing conditions of war. It
is Cavalry that carries out the preliminary operations. It is frequently
due to the information gained by Cavalry that a commander is enabled to
make, or alter, his plan of action. It may often happen that Cavalry may
help to decide the issue of a battle. It is by Cavalry that the fruits
of a successful action are most completely reaped. And it is to the
Cavalry that the army will look to save a retreat being turned into a
rout or a disaster.

It is for these reasons, and because Cavalry is so frequently required
to act alone, and often in quite small parties, at a considerable
distance from the main force, that all ranks need the most careful
training. The men should be intelligent and trustworthy; they require to
have their wits about them even in a greater degree than other soldiers,
for a single Cavalry soldier may at times have great responsibility
thrown upon him. The officers should possess all the qualities of good
sportsmen. They should be fine riders, careful horse-masters, have a
keen eye for country, and be thoroughly well educated.[8]


Footnote 8:

  Unfortunately, the expenses connected with life in our Cavalry
  regiments are so heavy that only officers who have considerate means
  of their own can afford to belong to them, and but few of such go into
  the army as a profession. The only remedy is to make service in the
  Cavalry more attractive to those who are not well off by increasing
  the pay, and thus making it a prize for the Cadets at Sandhurst to
  struggle for as they now struggle for the Indian army.


In some recently written books on Cavalry great stress is laid on the
necessity for inculcating the “true Cavalry spirit,” and on the idea
that “shock action alone gives decisive results.” I cannot call to mind
one single instance during the last half-century—ever since, indeed,
arms of precision have been brought into use—when shock action alone has
produced decisive results, and I doubt whether shock action, or, in
other words, the _arme blanche_ alone, will ever again be able to bring
about such results against a highly trained enemy armed with magazine
rifles. I confess I cannot follow the train of thought which insists
upon Cavalry requiring a “spirit” for “shock action,” and a spirit
different, it is presumed, to the soldierly spirit which it is essential
for the other arms to possess if they are to behave with resolution and
courage on the field of battle.

It is this soldierly spirit, which can only be produced by discipline
and thorough training, that animates the Engineers to carry out the
extremely dangerous duty of blowing open the gates of a walled city. It
is this soldierly spirit that enables the Artillery to continue serving
their guns until the last man of the party is shot down. It is the same
soldierly spirit that enables the Infantry soldier to stand the strain
of lying out in the open, possibly for hours, under a burning sun or in
drenching rain, unable to move hand or foot without being shot at, a
strain to which the order to charge the enemy’s position comes as a
distinct and welcome relief. And it is the same soldierly spirit which
sustains the Cavalry soldier when employed on the important and
hazardous duties of scouting and reconnoitring, in the carrying out of
which he so often finds himself alone or with quite a small party. The
“charge” doubtless requires “dash,” but no special “Cavalry spirit”; the
excitement of galloping at full speed, in company with a number of his
comrades, is of itself sufficient to carry the Cavalry soldier forward.

I certainly would not venture to speak so decidedly on a matter, which
has given rise to so much controversy of late years, did I not feel that
I am justified in expressing an opinion from the fact that I have taken
part in Cavalry combats, and have frequently had occasion to scout and
reconnoitre with two, three, or perhaps half a dozen Cavalry soldiers,
at a time when capture by the enemy meant certain death. And I have no
hesitation in saying that scouting and reconnoitring try the nerves far
more seriously than charging the enemy.

In conclusion, I would ask you, my brother officers, in whatever part of
the Empire you may be serving, whether in the mounted or dismounted
branches, whether in the Cavalry, Yeomanry, Mounted Infantry, or
Colonial Mounted Corps, whether in the Artillery, Engineers, or
Infantry, to read this book with an unbiassed mind, and not to be put
off by the opening chapters, or to throw the book on one side with some
such remark as, “This is written by a civilian, and what can he know of
the subject?” Remember that most of our finest military histories have
been written by civilians. I would ask you to study the facts for
yourselves, weigh the arguments, follow the deductions, note the
conclusions, and then do one of two things. Either traverse the facts,
refute the deductions, and upset the conclusions, _or_ admit the facts,
agree to the arguments, acknowledge the deductions, and accept the

                        WAR AND THE ARME BLANCHE

                               CHAPTER I
                      THE ISSUE AND ITS IMPORTANCE

My central purpose in this volume is to submit to searching criticism
the armament of Cavalry. That armament now consists of a rifle and a
sword in all regiments, with the addition of a lance in the case of
Lancers. I shall argue that the steel weapons ought either to be
discarded or denied all influence on tactics, and a pure type of mounted
rifleman substituted for the existing hybrid type. I shall contrast the
characteristics and achievements of this pure type with the
characteristics and achievements of the hybrid type. I shall argue that
a right decision in the case of Cavalry carries with it indirect
consequences of the most far-reaching importance in regard to the
efficient training of all our other mounted troops, regular or
volunteer, home or colonial—troops which belong almost entirely to the
pure type, but on whose training the mere existence of a hybrid type,
with a theory of tactics derived from the steel, reacts unfavourably.

I cannot do better than begin by quoting two passages from page 187 of
the latest edition of “Cavalry Training” (1907). They constitute an
epitome of the case I wish to combat, and I challenge almost every
proposition, express or implied, contained in them. The first runs as

“From the foregoing it will be seen that thorough efficiency in the use
of the rifle and in dismounted tactics is an absolute necessity. At the
same time the essence of the Cavalry spirit lies in holding the balance
correctly between fire-power and shock action, and while training troops
for the former, they must not be allowed to lose confidence in the

Beginning with the first sentence, I challenge two assumptions implied
in it: first, that “thorough efficiency in the use of the rifle and in
dismounted tactics” (by hypothesis an absolute necessity) is compatible
with thorough efficiency in shock action, also, by hypothesis, a
necessity; second, that thorough efficiency with the rifle is confined
to what the compilers of the drill-book call “dismounted tactics.”
Passing to the second sentence of the same quotation, I challenge the
definition of the “essence of the Cavalry spirit” there laid down. This
definition is borrowed word for word from a German book, originally
written before the Boer War and republished in 1902, when the war was
ending, by an officer—the distinguished General Bernhardi—who founded
his conclusions not on experience but on report, and addressed those
conclusions to the German Cavalry, whose tactics, training, and
organization by his own admission were, and seemingly are still, so
dangerously antiquated in the direction of excessive reliance on the
steel as to present no parallel to our own Cavalry. I challenge the
Cavalry spirit so defined because it is a hybrid spirit, impossible to
instil and impossible to translate into “balanced” action, even if the
steel deserved, as it does not deserve, to be “balanced” against the
rifle. I challenge the definition still further, because it is not even
an honest definition. Affecting to strike a just balance between the
claims of the rifle and the steel, it does not represent the facts of
existing Cavalry theory and practice in this country. Though borrowed
from a German authority, it is even less to be relied on as representing
the facts of German theory and practice, nor does it correspond to the
general tenor of the very handbook—"Cavalry Training"—in which it
appears. Those facts and that tenor find their really honest and
truthful expression in the second quotation, which runs as follows:

“It must be accepted as a principle that the rifle, effective as it is,
cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the
magnetism of the charge, and the terror of cold steel.”

I challenge both the form and the essence of the statement: its form
because the words imply that “the speed of the horse and the magnetism
of the charge” are exclusively connected with the use of the cold steel;
its essence because the principle laid down is fundamentally unsound.

I want to induce all thinking men, whether professional soldiers or not,
who take an interest in our military progress, to submit this theory of
the _arme blanche_ once and for all to drastic investigation, in the
light of history—especially of South African history and Manchurian
history—in the light of physical principles, and in the light of future
Imperial needs. Above all, I want them to examine the case made for the
theory by Cavalry men themselves, and to judge if that case rests upon
an intelligent interpretation of new and valuable experience, or,
rather, upon a stubborn adherence to an old tradition whose teaching
they have indeed been forced to modify, but have not had the good sense
to abandon. The principles laid down by professional men for the use of
their own arm must of course exact the greatest respect, but they are
not sacrosanct, and if they are found to rest on demonstrably false
premisses they deserve to be discarded.

Of all military questions this question of the _arme blanche_ and the
rifle is one around which general or outside criticism may most
appropriately centre. It is not merely a Cavalry question; it cannot be
disposed of by reference to the British regular Cavalry as it exists
to-day. The training of all mounted troops, regular or volunteer, home
or colonial, however armed and trained, depends on clear notions as to
the relative value of the two classes of weapon. As an example of what I
mean, I suggest that it is shallow and unscientific to present the
Yeomanry with the “Cavalry Training” handbook as a whole, and to inform
them in a sort of postscript of three perfunctory pages that they should
be “so trained as to be capable of performing all the duties allotted to
Cavalry, except those connected with shock action.” According to the
interpretation of the words “duties connected with shock action,” the
injunction might mean anything or nothing. No clear interpretation of
the words could be derived from the handbook itself. The Yeoman might
turn for light to the Mounted Infantry Regulations, and ask if, in its
opening words, he was “an Infantry soldier ...” governed “in his
tactical employment by the principles of Infantry training,” and, if
not, in exactly what sense and for what reasons he was supposed to
differ from the Mounted Infantryman; but he would ask in vain. In the
end, he often concludes from the fact that he is “Cavalry,” that he is
in peril for lack of a sword, and appeals for the sword when he has
barely mastered the rudiments of the rifle. The Mounted Infantryman, who
has been first an Infantry soldier, nourished on “Infantry Training,”
may well wonder why that manual encouraged him not to fear Cavalry,
while directly he obtains a horse he is warned to fear the steel.

These are examples of confusion of thought at home. What of Greater
Britain? A critical time has arrived in our Imperial history. There is
an universal sense of the necessity of closer union for Imperial
defence. An Imperial General Staff has been initiated which is to
“standardize” organization and training. One of its functions ought to
be to formulate some clear, rational principles for the employment of
mounted troops. We know we can get large numbers of these troops. From
first to last in the Boer War we obtained upwards of 70,000 men outside
Great Britain. We could obtain many in another great war, and make far
more valuable use of them; if time and thought were to be given to their
organization and training, with a special view to service in an Imperial
Army. Inspiration in the first instance will naturally come from the
home country. What are we going to ask of these troops, who, be it
remembered, are designed to form an integral part of an Imperial Army,
ready, without the confusion, waste, and inefficiency due to an
improvised system, to take their place in the field for the performance
of definite, specific duties? We shall hardly, it is to be presumed,
recommend shock action with the steel weapon to men who have not even
the sentimental tradition of shock action, much less any practical
belief in its efficacy. In what light, then, is shock action to be
presented to them? What is to be their rôle? Are they, like the
Yeomanry, to be informed that they are unfit to perform an undefined
range of duties for which shock action alone is a qualification, or are
they to be held competent to act as “Cavalry,” while the Yeomanry cannot
claim that privilege? Again, are they, like the Mounted Infantry, to
regard themselves on the one hand as “Infantry soldiers” mounted upon
horses, and, on the other, as competent to perform regularly the duties
of “Divisional Cavalry”? Or are they to be called Mounted Riflemen, a
name officially unknown in England? And, if so, in what precise and
positive way do Mounted Riflemen differ from Yeomanry, Mounted Infantry,
and Cavalry? These questions must be answered, and they must be answered
to the satisfaction of practical men whose ideas of war have been
moulded by the South African War, where shock action, as they know very
well, fell into complete disuse, where all classes of mounted troops,
home and colonial, performed according to their varying degrees of
ability, the same functions, and where the rifle was the only weapon
which counted.

This question of weapons for horsemen must be fairly and squarely faced.
It is a national and Imperial question, upon which every shade of
opinion, volunteer or regular, should be consulted, and a verdict formed
on the evidence, historical and technical. Part only of the rich and
varied experience gained upon this question in South Africa was gained
by Cavalrymen. Gunners, Sappers, and Infantrymen, to say nothing of
volunteer officers of every description, led mounted troops with
distinction. The most brilliant Boer leading came from lawyers and
farmers. The point is largely one for common sense, applied to known and
recent facts, and everybody who takes any interest in military matters,
whether he bears arms or not, can and ought to form an intelligent
judgment on it.

But at present the situation is far from satisfactory, and, unless the
controversy can be brought to a head in time, seems likely to grow more
and more unsatisfactory. General public interest in the details of the
South African War languished even before it was ended. After the war was
over the tendency was to banish a tedious and unpleasant subject from
memory. That, probably, is only a phase, yet a phase which may be
dangerously overprolonged. The citizen army which fought in South Africa
side by side with the regular forces has disappeared. A great number of
its individual members still bear arms as volunteers, but most of the
organizations raised for war purposes have perished as such, and with
them many of the sound, young traditions which were derived from war
experience. A new generation is slowly coming into being, permeated,
indeed, by growing enthusiasm for military service, but not particularly
interested in the war, and taught on the highest authority to regard it
as abnormal. In the regular forces a somewhat similar tendency has been
inevitable; the causes which led to a general concentration of thought
on mounted problems have disappeared. The war once over, the army
naturally fell back into its normal organization. Men temporarily called
to become leaders of horse from branches outside the Cavalry and regular
Mounted Infantry returned to their former vocations and became
reabsorbed in their old interests.

A great current of vital and original thought was irrevocably diverted.
The ideas, no doubt, have lived on and thrived sporadically. At this
moment there is probably much opinion in the army at large which is
unfavourable to the official Cavalry view of the _arme blanche_, but the
opposition is neither authoritative nor effectively articulate. In the
natural course of things the regular Cavalry—a force centuries old and
vested with immemorial traditions, the premier mounted force of the
Empire—has reasserted its sway over theory and practice. Shock action,
consigned to complete oblivion in South Africa and to equally complete
oblivion in Manchuria, still holds the first place in the training of
the Cavalry soldier. The reaction has been gradual but sure. In 1903, a
year after our war, the lance, by official order, was relegated to the
realm of “ceremony” and “recreation,” and the sword was expressly
subordinated to the firearm, which became the soldier’s “principal
weapon.” Then the sword regained that place, and finally the lance
returned to use as a combatant weapon in conjunction with the sword. It
is true that the rifle has been substituted for the carbine, and that
“thorough efficiency in the use of the rifle” is enjoined as an
“absolute necessity”; but, as I have pointed out, the spirit of the
regulations suggests primary reliance on the steel as the main source of
enterprise and dash. I lay stress on the spirit, for in the endeavour to
make the best of both worlds, and to picture a perfect hybrid type,
capable of doing all that first-class mounted riflemen can do, and all
that first-class shock soldiers can do, the letter of the instructions
for the employment of Cavalry in the field is often inexcusably evasive
and ambiguous.

But if there were any doubt about the essential meaning, the published
writings of Cavalry authorities like General Sir John French, when
combating the advocates of the rifle, would dispel that doubt. At such
times, the principle of balance is forgotten, and the ineradicable
belief in the supreme efficacy of the steel is laid bare. Does this
belief rest on a sound basis? I want to show that it does not. It is a
formidable task; how formidable, the mere mention of the name of General
French will show. Deservedly he commands widespread respect and
confidence, not only as the most distinguished British Cavalry officer
now living, but as a soldier of high general ability. To a vast number
of minds his verdict on any military point would be decisive. In South
Africa he was the incarnation of the soldierly virtues. His name is
bound up with some of the best work done by the Cavalry during that war,
so that any critic of the _arme blanche_ who founds his criticism on
that war, finds himself continually confronted by the seemingly
unanswerable argument that our ablest Cavalry officer believes in the
_arme blanche_, and our ablest Cavalry officer, himself endowed with
long war experience, must be right. I ask the reader to reserve his
judgment. No one who has not studied in a critical spirit this question
of weapons for horsemen can realize the incalculable influence of purely
sentimental conservatism upon even the ablest Cavalry soldiers. The
whole history of the subject has been one of indifference to, or
reaction from, war experience, with the result that every great war from
the middle of the nineteenth century to the recent war in the Far East,
with the solitary exception of the American Civil War, has produced a
confession of comparative failure in the Cavalries employed, even from
the Cavalry leaders themselves. General French himself would, I believe,
be the first to admit that in South Africa he owed little or nothing to
the _arme blanche_, and everything to the rifle. His case is that that
war was abnormal. The _arme blanche_, indeed, is a religion in itself,
comparable only to the religion of sails and wood which, in the
affections of the old school of sailors—able sailors—long outlived the
introduction of ironclads. This kind of conservatism must be analyzed,
and, if need be, discounted, before we can arrive at the truth.

The published opinions of Sir John French may fairly be taken to
represent the best, and in a sense the official, case for the steel
weapon. In 1909 a new edition was issued in this country of Von
Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars,” the work from which the compilers
of “Cavalry Training” have taken their definition of the hybrid “Cavalry
spirit,” and much more beside. It is admirably translated by Mr.
Goldman, who wrote “With French in South Africa,” after accompanying
General French in the field during an important part of the South
African campaign, who founded the _Cavalry Magazine_, and who may be
regarded as the principal lay advocate of the _arme blanche_.
Bernhardi’s book is preceded by an introduction from the pen of General
French himself. This introduction takes the form of an enthusiastic and
absolutely unqualified eulogy of everything contained in the German
publication, whose author is described as having, “with remarkable
perspicacity and telling conviction, dealt in an exhaustive manner with
every subject demanding a Cavalry soldier’s study and thought.”

Nor is the book only praised for its intrinsic merits. It is avowedly
put forward as a conclusive answer to the English critics of shock
manœuvre with the _arme blanche_—critics whom General French, in the
earlier part of his introduction, takes special pains to answer with
additional arguments of his own. Mr. Goldman, whose views may be
presumed to have received the approval of General French, adds a
preface, in which he pursues the same object. Here, then, we have a
volume which correctly represents in a compact and convenient form the
best professional opinion on this question. I propose to refer to it
incidentally, and at a later stage to submit it to closer analysis; but
I urge my readers to read the book for themselves, only taking care to
remember who Bernhardi was, when he wrote, why he wrote, and for whom he
wrote. I venture to think that they will pronounce the representation of
his volume as the last word of wisdom for British Cavalrymen, and as the
supreme vindication of the _arme blanche_, an almost incredible
phenomenon in a strange controversy. They will find it, indeed,
profoundly suggestive and interesting, but unconsciously destructive of
the very doctrines which its English sponsors believe it to uphold. A
more genuine representation of Continental thought may be found in a
book entitled “Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” by the Austrian
authority, Count Wrangel, to which I shall also refer.

In submitting theory to the test of facts, I propose to concentrate
attention on the modern evidence, and by “modern” I mean evidence since
the introduction of the smokeless long-range magazine rifle. Of the two
great wars since that era, those in South Africa and Manchuria, I shall
deal principally with the former. For Englishmen, bent on discovering
from their own national experience the best weapons and tactics for
mounted men of their _own race_, as distinguished from foreign races,
the South African facts are the only modern facts strictly relevant to
the inquiry. Aside from savage warfare, and disregarding the first Boer
War as too brief and inconclusive to afford reliable evidence, we have
to go back in our search for earlier experience as far as the Crimean
War, when the firearm was a plaything as compared with the modern rifle.
In the realm of foreign experience, there has been a great deal of
controversy, much of it painfully sterile, on Cavalry work in the
Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Franco-German War of 1870, and the
Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Here, too, the firearm, though
considerably improved, was primitive compared with the Mauser or the
Lee-Enfield rifles. Nor, in spite of the illuminating examples furnished
by the American Civil War, had anything approaching the type we now know
as mounted riflemen been initiated by the Continental soldiers. There
was no means of testing the value of this type, because it simply did
not exist. Cavalry training and manœuvres were still those of the
Napoleonic era. The firearm carried by the Cavalry was inferior even to
that carried by the Infantry, and scarcely an attempt was made to
inculcate any effectual use of it. Hence the comparative impotence of
the Cavalries.

The American Civil War of 1862–65, for Englishmen especially, stands in
a class by itself.[9] The men engaged in it were men of Anglo-Saxon
race, untrammelled by prejudices and traditions, working out mounted
problems by the light of common sense. The firearm, poor weapon as it
was, judged by our modern standard, became the most valuable part of
Cavalry equipment, and the most fruitful source of dash and enterprise.
Sheridan’s Cavalry were said by Stuart, who was the best possible judge,
to have fought better on foot than the Federal Infantry. The great
Cavalry raids in which the war abounded, and of which the European wars
which followed were conspicuously barren, depended absolutely for their
success, as all such enterprises always must depend, on aggressive
fire-efficiency. Fire from the saddle was constantly used by Morgan,
Forrest, and other leaders. Infantry on both sides learnt to despise the
sword, though for inter-Cavalry combats that weapon, owing to the
imperfections of the firearm, remained a trusted auxiliary. Our modern
rifle would have certainly produced the pure type of mounted rifleman
which South Africa produced in both sets of belligerents. The example
had no effect upon Continental tactics, a blind imitation of which has
always been the besetting sin of our own Cavalry school. Thirty-four
years later, when the rifle had enormously increased in power, we pitted
ourselves against the born shots and hunters of the veld with as little
regard for the Cavalry lessons of the American Civil War as though it
had never been fought.


Footnote 9:

  Colonel Denison’s “History of Cavalry” gives an excellent account of
  Cavalry work in this war and others of the same period.


Lastly, we have the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. That, as I shall
show, seals the doom of the _arme blanche_, and crowns the case for the
mounted rifleman. But it is a foreign war, and not, therefore, so
peculiarly applicable to ourselves as the Boer War, whose lessons,
nevertheless, it drives home. I propose to discuss it at a later stage,
and will only remark now that even the most ardent advocates of the
sword and lance have to admit that those weapons played no part in the
war, while, on the other hand, neither Cavalry, not even the Japanese,
approached the standard of fire-action attained in the course of our own

One more general word about the history of the subject prior to 1899. A
vast amount has been written upon it. There is much common ground.
Nobody denies that the relative important of shock manœuvre with the
steel weapon has steadily declined for a century. It is generally
admitted that the examples of successful shock action in the European
wars of the sixties and seventies were relatively very few, and the
performances of the Cavalries relatively poor to those of other arms.
While persisting in the argument that, had certain conditions been
fulfilled, Cavalry work, including shock work, might have been more
distinguished, advocates of the steel now generally admit that even then
the neglect of fire-action was the main cause of ill-success. Upon this
point no one could speak more strongly than Bernhardi. But if there is
much common agreement, we must make our minds absolutely clear as to the
nature of this agreement. A great part of the controversy has raged
round a comparatively narrow point: whether masses of Cavalry can any
longer charge Infantry, and, if so, what are the limitations to the
success of such a charge. It is agreed that since 1870 limitations are
many and severe; but the settlement of that point leaves the major issue
untouched. The opportunities of the steel weapon may have diminished,
but to the Cavalry school this weapon remains the weapon _par
excellence_ for the Cavalry, the indispensably decisive factor in
inter-Cavalry combats, which are to take the form of shock duels, and
the main inspiration for all the wide and important range of duties
belonging to the arm. No historian has studied more profoundly, nor
written more brilliantly upon, the development of mounted tactics than
the late Colonel Henderson. He was deeply versed in the Civil War, and
preached to deaf ears the great possibilities even of an imperfect
firearm in the hands of Cavalry. In a masterly analysis of the mounted
actions of the European wars from 1866 to 1878,[10] he pointed out the
comparative failure of shock, and the magnificent opportunities which
would have been open to any body of mounted troops as skilled in
fire-tactics as Stuart’s Confederates. He even goes so far as to say
that “a few commandos of Boers could have reduced to utter impotence the
whole French Cavalry.” Yet, at the end of his inquiry, just when he
seems to have proved to an impartial reader that the day of the steel
weapon is over and the undivided reign of the rifle begun, he falters.
There is a strange logical hiatus. Then the old dogma proves too strong.
After all, he concludes, the source of the “Cavalry spirit” is, and must
be, the steel. A precisely similar phenomenon, though springing from
wholly different causes, and with more domestic justification, occurs in
the case of Bernhardi and of Wrangel. Henderson’s solution was that, if
we are to have thoroughly expert mounted riflemen, they must be embodied
in a separate force.


Footnote 10:

  “Science of War,” chap. iii., “Tactical Employment of Cavalry”


That compromise should have taken this particular form in Henderson is a
circumstance I have never been able to understand. It is utterly
contrary to Civil War experience, as he himself interprets it. That he
should recommend one pure type, armed with either weapon, or two pure
types, each armed with a different weapon; or one hybrid type, with
_theoretical_ perfection in both weapon, would be intelligible. That he
should recommend a hybrid type, with the steel strongly dominant and the
rifle admittedly inferior, plus a pure type of expert mounted riflemen,
is strange indeed, after the conclusions he draws from history. But the
_arme blanche_ plays the strangest tricks with the acutest minds.
Bernhardi and our own Cavalry school are shrewd enough to postulate
theoretical perfection in the hybrid type, even if they make the sword
the supreme source of dash. We do not know what Henderson’s final
opinions were. The essay in which he alludes to the Boers was written
before the end of the war. In him we can easily trace the cause of the
logical hiatus. He had to take into account the use of the steel by
American horsemen in inter-Cavalry combats, but at a time when the
imperfections of the firearm left a field to the steel which has since
been shut off. Whether the South African War, with its mounted
rifle-charges, modified his views, we are ignorant. His first volume of
the “Official History” never saw the light, and he died in 1903. But we
know this, that the last paper he ever wrote, the “British Army”—though
he does not touch specifically on the mounted problem at all—insists
primarily on the revolution wrought in all modern tactics by the deadly
efficacy of the smokeless, long-range magazine rifle, a revolution whose
essence was the substitution of individual skill and intelligence for
those formal, machine-like movements of massed bodies which are best
exemplified in the case of shock action.

Using the South African War as his primary source of illustration and
guidance, I ask the reader to grapple seriously with the logic and
history of this matter. I beg him not to be content, failing
incontrovertible arguments, with the assurance of Cavalry men that, in
spite of the lessened opportunities for the _arme blanche_ and the
greater importance of the rifle, the former weapon must still be
regarded as the governing factor in Cavalry training. I ask him to take
nothing for granted, but to examine every function of Cavalry, tactical
or strategical, defensive or offensive, whether against Cavalry,
Infantry, or guns, and with a pitilessly critical eye to investigate the
evidence bearing upon this vital question: Which is the better weapon?

He will be discouraged and confused at the outset by the obscurities
connected with nomenclature. Names sanctioned by time always have a
strong influence in human affairs. Nowhere is this influence more
disproportionately strong than in the case of mounted troops. The fine
old word “Cavalry” simply means horse-soldiers without regard to weapon;
but by the tradition of centuries it has always been, and is still
associated with the sword and lance, though, in fact, for a long time
past all Cavalries have been accustomed to carry some sort of firearm as
well. Then there are Mounted Infantry, a force, so to speak, improvised
out of Infantry, with a short additional training as horsemen; then the
volunteer Yeomanry, and the Colonial Mounted Riflemen.

Names apart, the reader must ask himself: What happens in action? Does
the rifle dictate tactics to the sword, or the sword to the rifle? What
precise part does the question of weapons play in the ascription to
Cavalry and the denial to Mounted Infantry of all the difficult and
important duties of the major reconnaissance, duties obviously requiring
many faculties, mental and physical, which have no connection with the
steel weapon? Can a man ride quicker or better, be more observant,
original, or intelligent because he carries a sword? Finally, how is
training to conform to weapons? In the realm of tactics does the
official language correspond with the truth? Why should the expression
“dismounted tactics,” as opposed to “mounted tactics,” be always used in
reference to the use of the rifle by Cavalry? Does not the common factor
of mobility transcend the factor of weapons? Cannot mounted riflemen
“charge,” not, of course, according to that narrow interpretation of the
word which restricts it to shock, but in ways equally, if not more,
efficacious? And if, aside from the mobility derived from the horse, the
dash shown in these and similar operations can demonstrably be shown to
have been inspired by the rifle, is not the old Cavalry maxim that dash
is derived from the sword seriously shaken? It is all very well in
printed instructions to inculcate perfection in both, but is it humanly
possible to maintain unimpaired in the same body of soldiers, still
defined as “Cavalry,” the old standard of shock manœuvre, with all
the rigorous training it demands, and all the specialized instincts and
habits associated with it, while adding all the equally rigorous, and
equally specialized education of body and mind, which is indispensable
to the production of a good mounted rifleman? If not, which weapon is
likely to go to the wall?

Seeking light on these and kindred matters, the student will find
himself straying in a fog of loose definitions corresponding to loose
thought. He will find the word “Cavalry” used in several different
senses for several different purposes; sometimes merely to mean armed
horsemen, sometimes with special emphasis on the steel weapon, sometimes
with particular reference to the rifle. He will find Bernhardi calling
the Boers Cavalry, and his commentator, Mr. Goldman, gravely rebuking
him for not seeing that they were Mounted Infantry. He will find General
French hotly combating the heresy that “Cavalry duels” are a thing of
the past, and confusing in his own mind duels decided by the _arme
blanche_ with those struggles for mastery between the rival mounted
forces of two opposing armies which, everyone agrees, must be a
preliminary factor of high importance in all campaigns; and we find him
becoming eloquent on the great and growing rôle of Cavalry in war, as
though anybody had ever doubted that proposition, except in so far as it
implied that Cavalry drew their power mainly from the _arme blanche_.

The South African War, no less than the Manchurian War, throws a flood
of light on all these difficulties. It seems strange that it should be
necessary to recommend a thorough sifting and weighing of the South
African evidence. Yet it is necessary, for it is the fashion now to
dismiss that war as abnormal, and throughout this volume I shall have to
devote considerable space to arguing why, for the purposes of this
controversy, it should not be regarded as abnormal. In the meantime, I
appeal for the maintenance of some reasonable sense of proportion in
this matter. The war lasted more than two and a half years. It cost
upwards of 200,000,000 pounds sterling. It exacted supreme efforts,
military and economic. The total number of male belligerents opposed to
us from first to last, foreigners and rebels included, scarcely exceeded
87,000. The total number of soldiers put into the field to meet them
from first to last exceeded 400,000. For us, as I have already reminded
the reader, it was the first great war against a race of European
descent since the Crimea. For us, and for everyone else, it was the
first test on the grand scale of the smokeless magazine rifle, not only
in the hands of Infantry, but in the hands of mounted troops, and in the
hands of mounted troops operating against Cavalry of the old type.
Artillery apart, our foes one and all were mounted riflemen of the pure
type. By degrees all our own mounted troops, of whatever category,
became merged in the same type. And the war gradually became a mounted
war. Mounted efficiency became the touchstone of success. Unprepared in
multitudes of ways for the great struggle, it was in this respect from
first to last that our chief deficiency lay. On the other hand, it was
by their skill in the use of the horse and rifle combined that the Boers
were enabled to defy us for so long.

Merely to state these elementary and indisputable facts is to prove that
the war cannot lightly be regarded as abnormal. Common self-respect, to
say nothing of historical judgment, should forbid such a manner of
thinking. We need to recognize both our faults and our merits as
disclosed at that great turning-point in our Imperial history. Pushed,
as it is pushed, to extremes, this idea of abnormality becomes a
narcotic, lulling us into lethargy and reaction. This was _our war_, won
only by a vast expenditure of _our_ blood and treasure. It has its
memories of bitter humiliation as of glorious achievement, and those
memories are _ours_. The experience is mainly valuable to us in that it
is _ours_. In moments of exaltation we congratulate ourselves, probably
with sound justification, on having, in spite of many blunders, achieved
what a Continental army could not have achieved. And yet, when it comes
to reading the plainest technical lesson of the war, we find the leading
exponents of Cavalry doctrine brushing aside our own priceless
experience, appealing to Germany for light and guidance, and introducing
German formulas—meaningless to Germans themselves—into British
instructional handbooks.

One of the worst features of this insistence on abnormality is the
tendency it breeds in Cavalry writers to read the mounted operations of
the war from the Cavalry point of view only. Had things been otherwise,
had there been the normal opportunities for shock manœuvre, how much
more brilliant would have been the part played by the Cavalry! That is
the line of argument, prompted, as no one can fail to observe, not only
by an abstract faith in the _arme blanche_, but by a very natural
anxiety to place in the best light the achievements of the Cavalry in
South Africa. Confined within proper limits, that motive is
unexceptionable, but the moment it begins to have the effect of
converting a technical question into a sentimental question it becomes
vicious. That is what has happened. No one can doubt the fact who reads
Mr. Goldman, General French’s military biographer, and notes the
laboured efforts to extract from the most unpromising material
conclusions favourable to the _arme blanche_, and the deplorable loss of
perspective which such an effort entails. May I say here, if Mr. Goldman
will permit me, that, although controversy will compel me to criticize
his work unsparingly, I gladly and sincerely recognize its value as a
historical narrative. We differ, not about facts, but about the reading
of facts. I think his very natural admiration and affection for the
Cavalry have led him into the error of believing that their reputation,
as a branch of the service, is bound up with the reputation of the steel
weapon. Believing the contrary myself, I cannot help chafing sometimes
under what seems a sort of coercion into assuming the rôle of a
detractor of the Cavalry, while my sole desire is to attack their
armament. I fancy that all critics of the _arme blanche_ have to face
the same disagreeable ordeal. I can only do my best throughout to make
my attitude clear. The topic ought to present no difficulties. As a
nation, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves if we cannot discuss a great
theme like this dispassionately on its merits. The Cavalry, like every
other body of mounted troops in the King’s dominions, is an Imperial
possession. We are all proud of them, and if we criticize their methods,
it is with the single object of making sure that the energies of this
splendid body of men are directed into the most fruitful channel. In all
wars we know we can count on their setting a high example of the great
soldierly qualities, but we also want to make sure of their taking their
right place at the outset, and maintaining that place throughout, as the
leading exponents of progressive thought applied to mounted problems,
and in that capacity to serve as models to all their Imperial comrades,
and to the world at large.

On its merits, then, and on broad lines, I propose to discuss this
question, avoiding so far as possible everything tending to cloud the
vision with prejudice or bias. When I illustrate from recent facts it is
not with the barren and invidious purpose of apportioning blame or
praise, but with the single aim of elucidating the truth.

                               CHAPTER II
                         THE THREEFOLD PROBLEM

                        I.—THE PHYSICAL PROBLEM.

In preparation for the historical evidence, I propose to state what I
consider to be the constituent elements of a threefold problem. There is
the purely physical problem, which in the marshalling of rival sets of
precedents, and in the formulation of rival definitions of the Cavalry
spirit, has almost always been overlooked. There is the psychological
problem, and there is the problem of training.

The physical conditions are simple, so simple as scarcely to need
comment, were not habit and usage apt to obscure the origin of
long-accepted maxims. I am almost afraid to submit my first proposition,
so naked a truism must it appear. The primary distinction between the
horse-soldier and the foot-soldier lies in the horse, not in the weapon
carried by the man. No permanent, fundamental distinction, either before
or after the invention of gunpowder, has ever existed between the
weapons carried by foot-soldiers and horse-soldiers respectively. At
this day both classes alike carry both a steel weapon and a firearm. A
vast amount may depend (and otherwise I should not be writing) on the
way the weapon may be permitted to govern mounted tactics, but from time
immemorial it has been the superior mobility derived from the horse that
has given to Cavalry, using the word in its widest sense, all the
special functions which distinguish it from Infantry. Let us beware,
then, if we find a writer coupling together the horse and the steel
weapon as though, by some immutable law, they were inseparable factors
of efficiency. Surely, they are not. The common denominator is the
horse. To ignore the lance or sword is not, with all respect to Sir John
French, to ignore the horse.[11] The sole issue is, by the agency of
what weapon can the horse, in conjunction with the will and the manual
skill and strength of the man, be used to the best advantage?


Footnote 11:

  “Cavalry soldiers must of course learn to be expert rifle shots, but
  the attainment of this desirable object will be brought no nearer by
  ignoring the horse, the sword, or the lance” (Introduction to
  Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars,” p. 22).


If the horse has his merits, he has his drawbacks. Let us consider both,
strictly in relation to the question of weapons. Let us remember at the
outset what is too often forgotten, that the weapon is only used in
actual combats. In all those phases of war which precede combat, for the
rapid transportation from one point to another of any body of troops
great or small, ease of movement and secrecy of movement are the
paramount considerations. In a strategic raid or a tactical turning
movement, in any operation, offensive or defensive, from the action of a
patrol to the action of a division, the carriage of troops into the zone
of combat is a problem of mobility and secrecy pure and simple. Any
weapon which unduly burdens the horse or rider, or renders them unduly
conspicuous, is an obstacle to those ends only to be justified by
showing that it is indispensable for combats. Similarly, any system of
training which is designed to facilitate combat with any particular
weapon, but which reacts unfavourably upon mobility or secrecy prior to
the phase of combat, is, to that extent, to be deprecated. The scout
exemplifies the principle in its extreme form. Acting as a scout, he is
not meant to fight, but to move quickly, and to see without being seen.
It is quite possible that a few unarmed scouts might decide the fate of
armies; certainly scouts have, in fact, done so without recourse to

Hitherto, so far as the merits and drawbacks of the horse are involved,
we are concerned only with his speed and endurance on the one hand, and
his visibility on the other. But as soon as we regard the horse as
entering the zone of combat, we are confronted with a new and serious
qualification to his value—namely, his vulnerability. This, in one
degree or another, is an invariable source of weakness. The danger to be
incurred may be reduced to a minimum, as in the case of the pursuit of
utterly demoralized troops. Surprise and stratagem may modify the risk
to an indefinite extent, but the risk always exists, and can be overcome
in the last resort only by a mobility so high as to transcend it. We
arrive thus at the two opposing factors, mobility and vulnerability, the
one tending to counteract the other; and from the physical point of view
it is upon the correct estimate of the relative strength of these two
factors that the solution of every tactical mounted problem depends. It
goes without saying that the invention and improvement of the firearm,
by immensely extending the zone of vulnerability and immensely
increasing the degree of vulnerability within that zone, has profoundly
affected the conditions of this ever-present problem. The reader, no
doubt, will add that the same general principle applies to Infantry.
True; but there is especially good reason to insist on its application
to mounted troops.

Arrived at this point, we must, for the sake of clearness, disregard the
hybrid type of horseman, and picture, for the time being, as separate
personalities, the horseman armed with a steel weapon and the horseman
armed with a firearm. Later on we will fuse the two personalities in
one, when we come to consider training. But for the present I want to
concentrate attention on the relative value in combat of fire and steel.

Let us take first the horseman armed with the steel weapon.

Two characteristics must be noted at once: (1) His steel weapon is used
from horseback only; (2) as against riflemen, whether mounted or
dismounted, it is only used in _offence_. In both these respects it
differs from the bayonet.

In encounters on horseback with other steel horsemen (assumed, as
before, to be pure steel horsemen) it may in a sense be said to be used
both in defence and offence, but these encounters do not immediately
concern us. If two bodies of horse _agree_ to settle accounts in that
way, that is their own affair. The best swordsmen and riders will win.
We are contrasting fire and steel, and the steel as against riflemen is
only used in offence—why will soon appear. We must picture, then, our
steel horseman as acting offensively.

Now, in the physical sphere, while the improvements in the firearm have
greatly increased both the zone and degree of the horseman’s
vulnerability, there is nothing to redress the balance in favour of the
horse or the steel weapon. Both the speed of the former and the efficacy
of the latter remain practically constant quantities from age to age. By
comparison with firearms, steel weapons may be said to be incapable of
improvement. As missiles they have been obsolete for centuries. As
manual implements their range is the range of a man’s arm, plus their
own length. They cannot be used at any point short of actual contact
with the enemy, a point which must be reached with the rider in the
saddle, while the growth in the destructive efficacy of the firearm,
directed against so large a target as that presented by rider and animal
combined, has steadily reduced the horseman’s power of reaching that
point without mishap. Even after he reaches it, he still presents the
same large area of vulnerable surface as compared with a man on foot.

On the other hand, if and when he obtains contact, he gains in two ways.
His weapon gains in efficacy relatively to the firearm, since for the
moment the factor of range has been equalized, or almost equalized.
Secondly, his horse has a new merit, its weight; but this is not an
individual, but a collective merit, only developed by the combined
weight of many horses.

That brings me to a consideration of the steel weapon’s sole function in
war—the shock charge. We are to regard the man now as a member of a
mass. He and his comrades, by the impact due to the united momentum of
their horses, aim at producing “shock,” with its stunning physical
effect on the defence. Aided by shock, they use their steel weapons.

Now, what are the necessary conditions for the production of genuine
shock? First, the horsemen must attack in dense formation, precisely the
formation which offers the best target for rifle-fire. Second, in order
to make shock effective, the riflemen who are the object of attack must
also be in tolerably dense formation, otherwise there is nothing
substantial on which to exert shock. This, of course, is one of the
greatest of the modern limitations to shock, for the whole tendency in
war is towards loose and away from dense formations, the cause being the
increased efficacy of firearms.

Thirdly, since the ground must be covered at high speed and with
absolute cohesion in order to obtain momentum and to minimize
vulnerability, the ground must in every case be such as to permit of
high speed, fairly smooth, fairly level, fairly open, and, above all,
continuously practicable up to the supreme moment of contact. Any
concealed obstruction or entanglement met with in traversing the danger
zone may irretrievably compromise the charge. For true shock a ragged,
disjointed impact is useless. Clean, sharp, and shattering impact is the
only end worth attainment. The ground may fulfil all these requirements
up to the last few yards, but in the last few yards a sunk ditch, a wire
fence, not to speak of more visible obstacles, such as hedges, walls,
earthworks, or any of the common features of an ordinary defensive
position, may render the whole enterprise nugatory. If the reader will
bear in mind the average character of ground in European countries, he
will recognize another serious limitation to the employment of shock.

Fourthly, supposing that all the conditions hitherto enumerated are
satisfied, speed is still dependent on the freshness of the horses.
Whatever their exertions in the performance of the innumerable and
highly responsible duties of Cavalry not necessarily involving combat,
the horses must be capable, whenever and wherever the opportunity
occurs, of a vigorous gallop, ending with the super-gallop known as the
“charge,” at this supreme moment—the one and only moment in which the
steel horseman fulfils his rôle. Modern war proves this standard of
freshness to be chimerical. In peace-training you may compromise on
speed as much as you please, and in point of fact the rigorous
directions of “Cavalry Training” (p. 125) are often diluted to a canter
ending in a short gallop. Futile compromise! The less speed, the greater
and longer the vulnerability of the mass, and the _less shock_.

Here are four conditions for the effective exercise of shock, each
stringent, and, since they must all be satisfied, of a fourfold
cumulative stringency. Note again the absence of analogy with the
bayonet, which is fixed to the rifle, and comes into use only at the
climax of a fire-fight on foot. The four conditions may be mitigated
genuinely by one circumstance, which I shall refer to later. At the
moment I wish to refer to an alleged mitigation which embraces a
profound fallacy, and I beg for the reader’s particular attention to
this point, for it is largely on that fallacy, at any rate in our own
country, that the _arme blanche_ continues to thrive.

Recall the first two conditions, which may be regarded as counterparts
of one another—density of formation, both in the attacking and defending
force. The reader will easily understand why the latter condition is so
necessary. To propel a massed body of horsemen against an extended line
of riflemen is a wasteful expenditure of effort. There will be no shock
worth the name, while the mass in motion is almost as vulnerable a
target to rifles as though the defence too were massed; fire is
convergent instead of direct, that is all. But supposing the horsemen
follow suit, and charge in loose, extended order? So they may, but in
that case also _they will not produce shock_, which is the indispensable
condition for the successful use of the steel weapon. Here is the heart
of the whole matter. Though there is, of course, no fixed moment when
shock may be said to disappear, it is plain that with every additional
yard of extension, either in the attacking or defending line, or both,
shock, which means the violent physical impact of a united body, must
diminish. It is equally plain that in proportion to this diminution of
shock the chances of the steel weapon rapidly dwindle and the
retaliatory power of the rifleman rapidly increases. He is now an
individual pitted against a rival individual who has lost the collective
power due to mass, while he retains the vulnerability due to large
surface presented by his horse. On these terms the rifleman has an
immense advantage. He has room to move in, a longer range for his far
more deadly weapon, and breathing-time. Let the student beware, then,
when he finds it laid down in the textbook that Cavalry, when attacking
Infantry, are to charge in “extended order” with the steel weapon.[12]
No thoroughly logical upholder of shock—no German, for example—would be
guilty of such a solecism. Bernhardi recommends, at the utmost, a
“loosening of the files” from the jammed, knee-to-knee rigidity of the
charge, as it is to be employed against horsemen. “Only _closed_ lines
on a broad front can be relied upon for success.”[13] Our idea of
extension could only come from confusion of thought in a period of
transition. The reader must watch this point most carefully when we come
to illustrations from the South African War. Is there, then, no
opportunity for horsemen to charge in extended order? Of course there
is; but not for horsemen using the steel. I shall come to the other type
in a moment.


Footnote 12:

  “Cavalry Training,” p. 129.

Footnote 13:

  “Cavalry in Future Wars,” pp. 221–2 and 234 (4).


I have dealt with the fallacious source of mitigation. Now for the true
source—surprise. This factor of course favours the attack, not only of
steel horsemen, but of all horsemen, and, indeed, of all troops in any
phase of military effort. But it is the soul of mounted effort, because
surprise is derived from mobility, and the horse is the instrument of
mobility. Surprise, therefore, can mitigate any of the rigorous
conditions imposed on shock. For example, the extended riflemen may be
caught in flank so suddenly that they can neither develop fire before
contact nor deploy frontally to meet it. Or massed infantry may be
caught in column of route. But in all cases the degree of surprise
requisite can only be measured by the rigour of the conditions, and
experience proves, admittedly, that under modern conditions an enormous
degree of surprise is necessary for the success of shock against
riflemen. On the whole we shall not be far wrong if we lay it down, as
Bernhardi plainly indicates, that the best, if not the only, opportunity
for the steel against riflemen is in the pursuit of utterly demoralized
troops. Here the least degree of shock is necessary, with a
corresponding slackening in the rigour of the conditions of shock, but,
be it noted, with a corresponding diminution in the efficacy of the
steel, which, as I pointed out, is closely dependent on shock. If we
reach a point when no shock is possible, the steel becomes no more
useful than the rifle.

So much for the steel, and the reader long before this will have seen
why the steel is only used in offence. It requires shock, shock requires
momentum, and momentum implies offence.

Now let us turn to the mounted rifleman, assumed to be of the pure type.
But observe at the outset that we have already been dealing with his
defensive rôle. Dismounted, he has the defensive power of Infantry, and
the physical factors involved are precisely the same. Continue to regard
him in defence, crediting him now with the additional mobility conferred
by the horse. If it is only under the rarest circumstances that Infantry
can be forced into combat on terms favourable to steel, still more
rarely can mounted riflemen be so forced. They can extend more quickly,
change front, or retire to better positions more easily—in a word, they
have a tactical suppleness and elasticity unknown to Infantry. Of
course, I am assuming that they are good mounted riflemen, skilled in
the instantaneous transition from the mounted to the dismounted state,
and able to manage their led horses adroitly and safely. It has always
been the belief of the _arme blanche_ school that steel horsemen if they
cannot charge dismounted riflemen, can at any rate charge their led
horses. All the facts, as I shall show, prove this idea to be illusory.

And now, on behalf of the rifle, let us carry the war into the enemy’s
camp, regarding the rifle, not as a defensive, but as an aggressive
weapon in the hands of mounted men. Save for the elimination of weight,
the physical merits and demerits of the horse remain precisely the same:
speed on the one hand, vulnerability on the other. To exploit the first
and minimize the second must be the effort here as always. But that is
the only point of similarity in the two widely different problems
presented by shock-tactics and fire-tactics. The sword can only be used
in a hand-to-hand encounter; the modern firearm has deadly effect at
long distances. From this fundamental difference in the two weapons
everything else follows. Shock, with its crushing limitations and
disabilities, is totally eliminated. The very idea of shock is utterly
foreign to the fire-tactics of mounted men, because there is no
necessity for it. There is no necessity, therefore, to comply with all
the conditions which are required to produce shock, and which in their
turn so dangerously enhance the vulnerability of horse and rider. Let us
try to contrast the two systems of attack, with the steel and the
firearm respectively, remembering that mounted riflemen, besides the
defensive, have the offensive power of Infantry plus the mobility
conferred by the horse.

As in defence so in offence, the firearm begins to be deadly when the
steel weapon is only an encumbrance, and when the firer is still
invisible. By the intelligent use of ground for the concealment of
horses, and the development of fire at successive points, the attack may
go through all the phases of Infantry attack with a vast increase of
mobility, and with the vulnerability of the horse reduced by skill to a

But I need not dwell on the preliminary and intermediate phases of
combat. It is only in the last phase—that of the final assault—that any
parallel with shock-tactics begins. Up to this point the steel weapon
has been idle, nor even now can it be brought into play unless all those
four inexorable conditions are satisfied. The first two—close formation
both in the attacking and defending force—do not apply at all to mounted
riflemen, since there is no question of shock. The third and fourth have
but a remote application.

Far from being a unique moment, this is merely a culmination. The enemy
probably is already shaken, not by the fear of something which can only
materialize after contact, but by positive casualties wrought by a
long-range weapon. It remains to drive home the victory.

Contact may be desirable if feasible, but there is no imperative need
for it. Under many conditions rifle-fire is more effective at 5, 50,
even 100 yards’ distance than in a mêlée. A victory may be crushingly
conclusive without recourse to anything in the nature of a hand-to-hand
encounter; but if nothing save a hand-to-hand encounter will secure a
victory, the rifle provides scores of opportunities of obtaining that
encounter where the _arme blanche_ provides but one, if only the mounted
riflemen are versed in that elementary part of their trade, which
consists in knowing what and how to use, and when and how to discard,
the horse. As compared with the steel horsemen, they are almost
independent of ground. Instead of perpetually pining for level swards
and open “Cavalry ground,” they welcome inequalities and obstacles, for
these are the true conditions of surprise. Indeed, they make use of
these obstacles, instead of allowing them to baulk their efforts. Steep
ascents often aid them, entrenchments and other defences, natural or
artificial, at the point of contact,—hopeless barriers, however flimsy
in their character, to shock—can be surmounted by them. But supposing
the ground is open, level, and smooth, and a mêlée with the enemy
obtainable by quadrupeds, suppose, in fact, the only topographical
conditions which can render an _arme blanche_ charge possible, is there
no rôle open to them analogous to that of the steel horsemen? Can they
not charge home? I shall prove by a quantity of facts drawn from
experience that they can, and under conditions which would be fatal to
an _arme blanche_ charge. Not aiming at physical shock, not therefore
presenting the vulnerable target produced by close formation, they do
not need the same degree of speed, nor, consequently, that perpetual
freshness in their mounts which is the chimera of theorists and the
despair of practical men. Nor is the size of their horses—an important
element in _genuine_ shock—of any account to mounted riflemen. Within
rational limits, the smaller they are the better. Finally, in the
process of covering on horseback this last intervening space of open,
level ground, when the _arme blanche_, remember, even at the eleventh
hour is still idle, need the rifle, too, be idle? Again, I shall bring
ample modern testimony, which is fortified by much evidence from the
American Civil War, to show that fire from the saddle, even if unaimed,
may be used with signal effect, and in the case of the modern rifle, not
merely moral effect, but physical effect. It may take the shape of aimed
fire, as against horsemen at close quarters in pursuit, or against a
Cavalry “mass,” or groups of led horses; while a few casualties, even
from unaimed fire, in the defence, however constituted, produce great
effect in daunting aim and nerves alike. Here, mark, is the crowning
element of superiority in the rifle. Unlike the steel, which is used
only from horseback, it can be used both from horseback and on foot. The
first-class mounted rifleman—the ideal type we can construct from direct
war experience—will be at home in both. He will use saddle-fire mainly
in its unaimed or roughly-aimed form, and will dismount for effective

The “charge,” which is the sole function of the _arme blanche_, is no
longer the monopoly of the _arme blanche_. It is one of the
functions—the culminating function among many—of mounted riflemen. The
word, of course, is an unsatisfactory one, because in its ordinary
sense (derived originally from shock-tactics) it implies a mêlée or
hand-to-hand encounter, while for mounted riflemen, as for Infantry,
it has a far wider meaning. A charge ending within a few yards of the
enemy—for example, just below the crest of an elevation on which the
defending troops are stationed—is just as much a charge as if it were
pushed beyond that intervening space into the sphere of physical
contact, and it may be just as decisive. But examples, of which an
infinity may be cited, will lead me too far afield at the present
moment. I am regarding in isolation, so far as that is possible, the
physical side of the problem, and I suggest that the physical factors
give an immense superiority to the rifle over the steel as an
offensive weapon for mounted men. Obviously it is possible to conceive
cases when, from the physical point of view, the steel weapon may have
an advantage. The point is, how often in modern conditions can such
cases arise? I think that from the preceding analysis it will be clear
that these cases can be narrowed down to the small class I have
already mentioned—pursuits of thoroughly demoralized troops. Even then
the advantage is exceedingly problematical, and is, in point of fact,
not supported by any modern evidence. Under such extreme circumstances
as Bernhardi describes on page 15 of “Cavalry in Future Wars,” attack
with any weapon whatsoever—battle-axe, revolver, club—will have
approximately equal chances, if, indeed, any weapon at all is needed
to secure surrender. What the rifle can effect in the way of sheer
rapid killing I shall prove by facts.

Remember, too, another important point. Momentum is a continuing
condition of the shock charge. Impetus must be sustained, the defence
burst through, and a rally made on the farther side—a matter of time and
difficulty—for another stroke which inevitably must be less effective
than the first; and the first, owing to dense formation, has struck a
comparatively small area. The rifleman has nothing to do with continuing
momentum, and the stereotyped “rally.” His business is to use his rifle
when, where, and how he can, mounted or dismounted, and with as large a
radius as he can. He is always busy, and always formidable.

One more word on this contingency of the use of steel in utterly
demoralized retreat. It has always been the favourite dream of
Cavalrymen, but it is a dream which in modern war never comes true.
Panic is never universal. There are sections or groups always who have
nerve and spirit enough to fire, and show a decent front, and directly
any element of fire-defence enters in, the power of the steel wanes to
nothing, and the need for mounted riflemen begins. It was so even in
1866 at Königgrätz. It was so in South Africa and Manchuria.

I hope he is bearing in mind that it is only for the sake of clearness
that I have been taking pure types of steel horsemen and rifle horsemen
respectively, and crediting both with high excellence in their several
_métiers_. The hybrid horseman will, of course, have his share in the
advantages, defensive and offensive, of the pure mounted rifleman; what
share is another matter. I am now contrasting fire and steel in the
physical sphere, and I ask, have I exhausted the cases of opposition
between fire and steel? In reality I have, but I am too familiar with
the _arme blanche_ sentiment not to be aware that I shall be held to
have ignored one important case. Again it is an imaginary case. Two
solid masses of horsemen are pictured, the one with swords, the other
swordless, confronting one another at close quarters on an open
plain—"in the open" runs the vague phrase—both blocks on _horseback_.
Palpably, so the argument runs, the steel must triumph. Possibly, but
the contingency never happens, never can happen unless by one of those
stunning surprises which have no special relevance to mounted tactics,
and which argue scandalous neglect in the defence. For the steel
especially such stunning surprises are unattainable, because “open”
ground, one of the conditions of shock, is the worst ground for stunning
surprise. But the illusion does not stop here. It is elevated into that
complete conception of the inevitable shock duel which is the very
corner-stone of Cavalry theory. The idea is this, that in the last
resort shock alone can decide the combats of mounted troops. It is true
that this unqualified generalization is so contrary to common sense that
it is rarely set forth in so many words, but it comes to that, or there
is no meaning in the theory. The inter-Cavalry fight, says “Cavalry
Training,” whether in the phase of strategical reconnaissance, or on the
battle-field of all arms, must be decided by shock. Fire-action at the
best will have but a “negative result.”[14] I shall dispose of this
fallacy, which has itself paralyzed and sterilized Cavalries believing
in it, by illustration. Meanwhile the reader has probably detected its
inherent improbabilities. If there happens to be no available ground for
shock—and how much of England, for example, is available?—there must be
_negative_ effect on both sides—a double stalemate, a deadlock—unless
both parties resort by agreement to a favourable place, as in peace
manœuvres they do in fact often resort. But that is a secondary
fallacy: the fundamental fallacy is the supposition that the steel can
impose tactics on the rifle. It cannot. There is not a tittle of
evidence to prove that it can. All modern evidence proves that the rifle
imposes tactics on the steel, and the evidence only confirms the plain
physical principles.


Footnote 14:

  “Cavalry Training,” p. 194.


                     II.—THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM.

In war the moral advantage of a weapon, whether used in offence or
defence, depends absolutely on its physical efficacy. It will inspire
confidence in its possessor and fear in his adversary in direct
proportion to its average working utility. Practical fighting men cannot
be induced for long to retain either a sentimental affection or a
superstitious awe for a weapon of proved inferiority. In the early days
of a war, when the merits of new weapons, or of old weapons in new
hands, are still in doubt, such irrational feelings have been known to
operate; but they do not last. At the beginning of the South African War
the Boers feared the horseman’s sword, but the fear did not last. The
physical capabilities of the weapon, in harmony with the physical
capabilities of the horse, determine the moral impulse of the horseman
and the moral effect upon the enemy.

In endeavouring to apply this simple criterion to the case of the _arme
blanche_ and the rifle, we are confronted at once with two formidable
obstacles, the “Cavalry spirit” and the “terror of cold steel”—the
former a subjective idea, the latter its objective corollary.

No one but a Cavalryman, perhaps, can fully appreciate the depth and
intensity of the old tactical tradition of the Cavalry, a tradition many
centuries old, the treasured heritage of many glorious fields. There is
nothing which exactly corresponds to it in other arms. Both the Infantry
and Artillery have been accustomed to rely continuously on improvements
in their weapons and to modify their field training accordingly. But, as
I have pointed out, the steel weapons of Cavalry are not susceptible of
improvement. With stereotyped weapon, however great the traditions
behind them, the tactics have tended to be stereotyped, not absolutely,
of course, but relatively to the progress made in other arms. Hence
there has grown up what is known as the “Cavalry spirit.” This
consecrates the past, and entrenches the type behind an impregnate
rampart of sentiment. Let us note that in relation to other branches of
the service the “Cavalry spirit” is something of an anomaly. No one
speaks, at any rate with the same peculiar emphasis, of an “Infantry
spirit” or an “Artillery spirit,” though the peculiar traditions of
these arms are no less glorious, their _esprit de corps_ no less
admirable, their ardour in action no less great. No; the Cavalry spirit
in latter days has come to be an unconscious tribute to change, and at
the same time the symbol of resistance to change.

Let us be quite clear about the nature of this spirit, otherwise we may
be misled by a mere point of nomenclature. I pass by that bilateral
definition, referred to in the beginning of this volume, which, as I
pointed out, represented mere lip-service to the rifle, and is not
seriously accepted by Cavalrymen themselves. Historically, here and on
the Continent the Cavalry spirit dates back to a time when there was but
one category of mounted troops, that known as “Cavalry,” to which all
the war duties naturally belonging to men provided with horses were
assigned, and whose primary weapons were the steel weapons. It has
outlived the intrusion of the rifle into mounted tactics and the
introduction of new pure types under the names of Mounted Infantry and
Mounted Riflemen. Outliving these innovations, it has naturally
retained, for Cavalrymen at any rate, a wider significance than present
conditions warrant. It implies in the larger sense dash, speed,
audacity, resource, nerve—qualities which should be the possession of
all soldiers vested with the high mobility given by the horse. And it
covers, in the larger sense again, all the duties still arbitrarily
assigned to Cavalry and arbitrarily withheld from mounted
riflemen—duties many of which have only the remotest connection with the
steel weapon, and could be—have been, in fact—performed equally well,
and better, by troops relying on the rifle. But, stripped of all these
confusing elements, which are due to the secular association of the
horse and the steel weapon as inseparable corollaries of one another,
the Cavalry spirit, in its inmost essence, means the spirit of fighting
_on horseback_ with a steel weapon, in contradistinction to the spirit
of fighting on foot with a firearm. As I have said before, with opposing
bodies of horse who both deliberately elect to contend on horseback with
the steel we have nothing to do. Our sole concern is to estimate the
influence of the modern rifle upon that method of fighting. Now, in view
of the physical principles set forth above, is the Cavalry spirit, as I
have defined it, a sensible thing to inculcate?

I shall prove that the “terror of cold steel,” the objective counterpart
of the “Cavalry spirit,” is a myth. Cold steel, no doubt, may seem
terrible enough to troops taught to rely on it, but no Infantryman worth
his salt feels any terror of the horseman’s steel. Infantry are taught
in our own country to despise it, not to fear it. _A fortiori_ mounted
riflemen, with the combative power of Infantry plus high mobility,
should be taught not to fear it. They are not so taught.

Strangely enough, the refutation of the theory of terror, and
incidentally of the whole theory of the _arme blanche_, is contained
within the covers of the Training Handbooks. Let the reader study
carefully the whole of page 92 of “Infantry Training” (“Meeting an
Attack by Cavalry”), noting specially the opening words about “open
ground” and “broken ground” in the case of a foot-soldier versus an
individual trooper. Forming square to meet shock has, of course, long
been abolished. Then let him read pages 60 and 61 of “Mounted Infantry
Training,” where he will actually find gravely set forth directions for
forming square to resist Cavalry, so vulnerable are Mounted Infantry
taught to regard themselves when “surprised in the open” (the vague old
phrase!) by Cavalry. Why give Mounted Infantry horses at all? Meanwhile
some zealot for the horse and the rifle has been allowed to insert on
page 57 a direction for Mounted Infantry to use saddle-fire, though only
in the case of “scouts and picked men.” So near we are to common sense,
and yet so far! Fancy a scout, whose aim is secrecy, using saddle-fire!

In all this insistence on imaginary sources of awe the true moral
factors underlying mounted action are forgotten. The greatest of these
is surprise. Behind the weapon is the horse, and the horse is common to
all mounted troops. Properly handled, mounted men will always be able to
exert a strong moral effect upon non-mounted men, simply from their
mobility, from their power to change or gain ground rapidly, to feint,
raid, and swoop, envelop, outflank, mystify, outmanœuvre—in a word,
to surprise their slow-moving antagonists. It is the horse which invests
them with this power, not the weapon, and if we are to speak of
“terror,” it is primarily the terror of surprise—in its widest
sense—which hampers and daunts unmounted troops in dealing with mounted
troops. Conversely, it is primarily the power of inflicting surprise
which instils dash into horsemen, however armed. Nor is surprise merely
an aggressive aim of horsemen; it is a defensive instinct, since the
mobility which gives surprise is set off to some extent by the
vulnerability of that engine of mobility, the horse. Here we come back
to physical conditions. Surprise is useless unless materialized through
the agency of a deadly weapon. For the materialization of surprise what
comparison can there be between a smokeless, accurate magazine rifle and
a weapon which is harmless unless and until physical contact is
attained, especially if it be remembered that the sort of physical
contact indispensable to success can only be brought about under such a
rare combination of exceptional circumstances as I have described?

To mounted riflemen surprise presents a whole world of activity unknown
to shock horsemen. In extreme, but not at all abnormal cases, they can
initiate, elaborate, and carry a surprise to complete and crushing
victory without even so much as being clearly seen by the defence. In
intermediate cases they can always be content with a far less _degree_
of surprise than shock horsemen, for whom surprise only materializes at
the supreme moment of a shock charge home. In remoter cases still they
can exercise a strong moral effect even at great distances by a threat
upon flanks or communications, when shock-trained horsemen would leave
the nerves of the enemy absolutely undisturbed.

                     III.—THE PROBLEM OF TRAINING.

Here we gather up the threads of the two preceding sections. I have
hitherto regarded fire-tactics and shock-tactics as distinct functions
attributable to distinct categories of troops. Initially, that is the
only way, I believe, of dissipating the mist of ambiguity cast over the
subject by the loose employment of undefined terms like “Cavalry,” and
by that obsession of thought which cannot conceive of the employment of
the horse to the best advantage without the accompaniment of a steel
weapon. But the question has to be faced: Cannot shock-tactics, for what
they are worth, and fire-tactics be harmoniously combined in a hybrid
type? We have at present only one category of troops which professes to
combine both functions—namely, our regular Cavalry, who carry both a
steel weapon and a good firearm. I can imagine a reader saying, “Granted
that your analysis of the rival merits of the two weapons is correct;
you admit that the steel may conceivably have a remote sphere of
utility: cannot the Cavalry do all that you picture mounted riflemen as
doing, and, in addition, when the rare opportunities present themselves,
use the steel effectively?” Or I can imagine the convinced advocate of
the _arme blanche_ saying: “Your analysis is all wrong: the steel has a
nobler and wider sphere than the rifle; still, for what it is worth, we
can use the rifle in the way you describe. We can do all your mounted
riflemen can do, and a great deal more besides.” As with the physical
and moral problems, when theory has said her last word, war experience
only can provide a final answer to these questions. Meanwhile I suggest
for the reader’s consideration that a profound fallacy underlies this
notion that you can train the same set of men to become perfect in the
use of weapons so different as the modern magazine rifle and the sword
or lance, no matter from which weapon they are taught to derive their
“spirit,” or which weapon is supposed to give them the most numerous or
valuable opportunities. If you favour one you prejudice the other; and
the more you endeavour to trim and compromise the less efficient the
hybrid you produce. As Count Wrangel truly says, you cannot serve these
two masters.[15] Both are equally exacting, and the types of education
they exact are as far apart as the poles. Until quite recent times,
outside a little perfunctory attention to the use of a short carbine,
training based on the steel occupied almost the entire time of European
Cavalries, including our own. Perfection in that training, whatever its
war value, requires hard, continuous training extending over years.
Manual practice in a steel weapon is an art in itself. To teach men to
handle in concert steel weapons from horseback with safety to
themselves, to say nothing of damage to their enemy, is a long and
difficult matter. To teach them the shock charge under peace conditions
and on selected ground and selected horses, with no bullets flying, and
with no unforeseen obstacles to mar the symmetry, speed and cohesion
which are the conditions of success, can be the outcome only of immense
patience and application in sheer mechanical drill. If anyone doubts
this let him go to “Cavalry Training” for confirmation. Whether the
charge be used rarely or often makes no difference. What is worth doing
at all is worth doing well, and to train men to do this thing well is a
very big business. If they cannot do it well, they will be beaten at
their own game by troops who can. It is futile to postulate an ideal
balance between shock-tactics and the loose fire-tactics imposed by the
modern rifle. For troops trained to rely mainly on the “terror of cold
steel” the shock charge cannot be a side-issue. It is, and must be, the
central aim of Cavalry education. It must govern drill, and through
drill its influence reacts upon and permeates all functions of Cavalry
to their remotest ramifications. The ideas behind it, the impulses
directing it, are ideas and impulses totally different from, and, under
modern conditions, fundamentally antagonistic to, those which inspire


Footnote 15:

  “Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” p. 55.


What is true of specializing in shock-tactics is still more true of
specializing in fire-tactics. The art of the mounted rifleman, carried
to the point of perfection to which by war experience we know that it
can be carried, demands an exclusive education. Here, too, is a very big
business, inexperience in which cost us scores of millions of pounds in
South Africa. You cannot, by a stroke of the pen, as it were, graft this
art on to the art of steel and shock by merely re-editing the pre-war
Drill-Book. Marksmanship, though very important, is a comparatively
small part of the education. Civilians can become good marksmen. Our
Cavalry have proved latterly, to their high credit, that they can become
good target marksmen without an excessive sacrifice of time. Nor could
anyone who witnessed the general manœuvres of 1909 dream of saying
that the Cavalry had not made remarkable strides in fire-tactics in the
last few years. The advance, with its proof of the adaptability of our
men to the art, only renders the squandering of energy on shock the more
painful. We know that they can never learn enough of fire-tactics. What
cannot be taught unless it be made a highly-specialized branch of study
and training is the field-craft, the head, eye, and instinct for mounted
work with the rifle, to say nothing of the more purely technical
requirements—the special formations, the handling of led horses, fire
from the saddle, and the like. The work involves a special way of
looking at all field problems; it is inspired, as I have said, by ideas
and impulses of an altogether different category from those which
inspire shock. It requires less machine-like drill, more individual
intelligence, less crude exertion of muscle, more reliance on the wits,
and withal just as good riding, just as careful horsemastership, and
just as much self-sacrifice, audacity, and dash. I shall prove this up
to the hilt by direct illustration from modern wars; but is it not
self-evident? For here are men vested with the offensive and defensive
power of Infantry, together with a mobility which is several times that
of Infantry. Infantry have plenty to do to become good at their trade.
How imperious and exacting must be the demands upon mounted infantry! I
have slipped into one of the conventional definitions. Let us give it
capitals, and ask how the fire-duties of Cavalry differ essentially from
those of Mounted Infantry, or any other category of mounted riflemen?

Fog hangs heavy on that most pertinent inquiry. But the answer, of
course, is that there is no difference whatever. And it follows
necessarily that, however seldom or often fire-duties may be required of
Cavalry, Cavalry will be excelled by mounted riflemen in the performance
of those duties, just as they will be excelled in shock by troops who
have more practice in shock. In either sphere the hybrid type must
succumb to the pure type, and the moral is all the easier to see and
enforce because the pure type of mounted rifleman, however arbitrary and
fanciful the limits assigned to its utility, is actually and officially
recognized at this moment, whereas no such thing as a pure type of shock
horseman exists.

Nor is it only a case of competition with other mounted riflemen or
other hybrid Cavalry. Let the reader extract from “Cavalry Training,”
tabulate, and analyze all the fire-duties now theoretically allotted to
Cavalry. It will take some little trouble, because they are not
marshalled compactly or given the emphasis they deserve. He will find
that they cover almost the entire range of war, and it goes without
saying that in every one of these duties the trooper must be prepared to
fight approximately as well as the riflemen opposed to him, whether they
be Infantry or mounted men. Otherwise he will fail. Troops cannot be
manipulated in war so that each class meets only its corresponding type.
Each class must be prepared to meet any other, both in defence and
offence. I am not constructing an academical dilemma, but a dilemma
forced upon us by the facts of modern war. Bernhardi sees it clearly,
and goes much farther, accordingly, than “Cavalry Training” dares go, in
postulating that utterly unattainable perfection in both weapons which
is the only way out of the dilemma. More on that point later.

The truth is that, in this country, behind all the inconsequent
reasoning which pervades conventional theories of mounted training,
there lies the disastrous hallucination that skill with the rifle is a
comparatively easy thing to learn, a thing which is essentially
appropriate to imperfectly trained troops—volunteers, irregulars of all
sorts—and which can be taken in their stride, so to speak, by regulars,
whose crown and glory is shock. If this view were upheld only by the
regular Cavalry it would be bad enough, but there is a tendency to
uphold it among the volunteers too, so that we daily have the
heart-breaking spectacle of men who have not yet come to the point of
realizing the tremendous possibilities of the rifle crying aloud like
children for a steel weapon. The responsibility for that fatal
discontent rests absolutely on the Cavalry.

Lastly, let it be remembered that this is not merely a question of
carrying weapons of debatable combat-value. It is a question of
mobility, transcending weapons, but at the same time hinging on weapons.
I began this chapter by insisting on the pre-combat or non-combat phases
of war as distinguished from the combat phase, in which alone weapons
are useful. Nobody suggests dispensing with the rifle. Can we dispense
with the sword and lance? Their weight alone is something, especially
when both are carried. But besides that, they are the very weapons which
add to visibility and injure general mobility. The more closely you
adhere to the idea of shock—and, in strict logic, you should adhere to
it if you admit the steel weapon at all—the more you are bound in strict
logic to favour big horses and correspondingly heavy men. If you
disregard logic, as we instinctively disregard it now, except in the
case of the _élite_ of our regiments, you risk overthrow in the
theoretically inevitable shock duel with a more logical Cavalry. That is
a small risk, because, as I shall prove, modern war does not favour that
class of encounter. The great evil is the deadening effect of the shock
theory on that direct aggressive power with the firearm which modern war
insists on exacting. The result is either that humiliating inaction
which extorted the puzzled censure of Von Moltke as long ago as 1866, or
a dissipation of the physical energy of horses and men on circumventions
and evasions which only postpone without facilitating combat. It is a
matter of experience, too, that in time of peace the galloping standard
for the shock charge, the instinctive aversion to dismounting, and other
corollaries of the artificial shock system and the “spirit” founded on
it, tend to produce under real campaigning conditions defective horse
management and faults of a like character.

In the last resort the training of all our mounted troops turns on
_Cavalry_ training. If there is error there, error positive or negative
will penetrate every class. Is there error? The tests of peace are
illusory. Let us examine the tests of war.

                              CHAPTER III

In reviewing the mounted operations of the South African War, I must
impress upon the reader the necessity of regarding the war as a whole,
and not as a series of episodes gradually decreasing in dramatic and
technical interest, and ending in a long and dreary period, profitless
for study, of sporadic hostilities known as the “guerilla war.” A
guerilla war really began within the first six months of hostilities.
For serious students of the war, interest in its mounted tactics
increases from first to last, because the war gradually became more and
more a mounted war, and mounted tactics underwent a steady and
progressive development. It would be unnecessary to begin with any such
exhortation as this were it not for the sheer ignorance, even in
authoritative writers, of actual historical events during the latter
part of the war, events which have a direct instructional bearing on
preceding phases, and without a knowledge of which it is impossible to
grasp issues and draw conclusions.

In a sense the war was always a mounted war, because the Boers were all
mounted. By tradition and choice they carried no steel weapon. Apart
from a small but very efficient artillery they relied on the rifle, in
the use of which they were highly proficient, and on the horse. They
were, in short, mounted riflemen. In that character they did, to the
best of their ability, all the work allotted in our own army to
Infantry, Mounted Infantry, Mounted Rifles, and Cavalry. This must
constantly be borne in mind when we compare them with our own categories
of troops, either in numbers or in efficiency. We cannot, for example,
in comparing them to our regular Cavalry, lay stress on their numerical
superiority over the latter arm, considered by itself. To make the
comparison pertinent we must throw into our scale the whole of our
Infantry, Mounted Infantry, and irregular horsemen, who supplemented the
regular Cavalry in the performance of those functions which the Boers
united in a single class of troops. The false basis of comparison
constantly appears in criticism of the war, even professional criticism.

The Boers had very few regular troops, and what they had were mainly
Artillery, the rest permanent police of a highly efficient quality.
Their army was a national militia, organized on a territorial system
admirably adapted for local warfare, but for united action on the grand
scale possessing grave defects. In combat, individual skill and
intelligence were remarkably high, the hunting and tracking instinct,
taking military shape in the skirmishing and scouting instinct, being
well developed. The habit of riding long distances over a thinly-peopled
pastoral country, on short commons, and in all weathers, bore military
fruit in endurance and in a skill in the care of horses which was of
incalculable value to them. Without any stereotyped system of tactics or
formations, there was a generally diffused common sense as to what to do
and how to do it in any given military conditions of a tactical
character, a _flair_ for opportunities and dangers, an eye for ground,
and above all an enormous belief, founded on knowledge and practice, in
the efficacy of the rifle, especially in defence, and especially when
the rifle was reinforced by the spade. Born shots and stalkers, they had
also a natural genius for practical field entrenchment, a valuable gift
in itself, but one which, in conjunction with moral causes, reacted
unfavourably at first on their offensive impulse.

Nor, in the early part of the campaign, did the high potential mobility
given to them by their horses act as compensation for this defect.
Exactly how far they lacked offensive impulse is a point exceedingly
difficult to determine, because it is complicated by their great
numerical inferiority. At only two of the big actions of the regular
war, the first and third, Talana and the battle of Ladysmith, had they
as much as a numerical equality. They were greatly outnumbered in the
rest of the Natal campaign, while in our central advance to Bloemfontein
and Pretoria, and on to Komati Poort, their strength in action was
rarely as much as a third of ours, often a quarter, and sometimes as low
as a fifth. In guns we always had an enormous preponderance. Still, in
consideration of their high skill as riflemen, we may certainly say that
at first they were deficient in offensive impetus, and missed
opportunities of victory. Siege-work particularly had a very bad effect
on them. In other field-work they seem to have regarded the horse—or
rather the pony—as a necessary and prosaic vehicle, without which life
on the veld under any circumstances whatever, peaceful or warlike, would
have been inconceivable. He was a commonplace means of transport rather
than a direct source of tactical, or even of strategical, enterprise. In
the tactical sphere, this failure to derive from the horse an aggressive
ardour analogous in kind to the “Cavalry spirit” was not due to any
embarrassment felt in disposing of led horses during the dismounted
phases of a fight, for they were wonderfully expert in this important
matter; nor, certainly, as later experience proved, was it due to the
lack of a steel weapon, which would have been alien to and destructive
of their peculiar tactics. The failure was due partly to an innate
affection for stalking and entrenchments, to a wholesome fear of the
rifle, corresponding to an equally wholesome reliance upon it, and in
some degree to a mere misapprehension of the physical risks involved. It
was connected, too, with a rooted aversion to straying far from their
slow and cumbrous transport waggons, concern for whose safety was an
obsession in the mind of each individual burgher, since they were
private, not public, property. But there was a graver obstacle than all
these, indiscipline, unfitness for that swift and sure collective action
without which no troops can attain a high degree of aggressive mobility.

A tactical inertia, out of all proportion to their real mobile power,
was only one symptom of a malady which infected the whole Boer
organization, military and national. Indiscipline in one form or another
paralyzed strategy, poisoned the springs of enterprise, set the man
above the corps and the province above the State. It promoted
selfishness, vacillation, and, in every commando in the field, a habit
of desertion, for the most part temporary, but none the less paralyzing.
If in all this there was a good deal of mere child-like levity, a
tendency to regard war rather as a series of big picnics than as a
sustained national effort, the moral evil was none the less
far-reaching, and, so far as the integrity of the two Republics was
concerned, mortal.

At this great crisis no deep common patriotism united the Boers. Their
national spirit had not, in the truest sense, come into being. It was
born later under new leaders and in the hour of disaster.

These phenomena are familiar in the struggle of primitive pastoral races
against powerful nations. I only draw attention to them in order to link
my own special topic with the wider moral study of which it forms an
inseparable part. The Boers, as mounted riflemen, cannot be considered
apart from the Boers as citizens of two States fighting for political
independence, and it will be found that the vivification of their civic
patriotism corresponded exactly with the vivification of their mounted
tactics. Unhappily, the study of these tactics has generally broken off
precisely at the point at which they begin to become most
interesting—that is, at the turning-point between Boer despair and Boer
hope; and broken off merely because that hope, however stimulating to
action in the field, was, in respect of its major objects, illusory.

It is a commonplace that both the merits and defects of the British
regular army, at the time when war was declared, were diametrically
opposite to those of the Boer militias. Imperial purpose was vigorous
and sustained; but the power of carrying out that purpose, even with
vastly superior resources in men, money, and material, was
disproportionately weak. Discipline was high, individual skill and
intelligence, especially in the use of the rifle, relatively low.
Excessive precision and formalism, the product of long years of peace,
characterized the drill and manœuvre of all arms alike. Of the
Artillery, which was by no means unaffected, I need say nothing here.
The Infantry, by comparison with the Boers, may be said to have been
wholly ignorant of the immense power of the modern rifle in modifying
formal tactics and in exacting fieldcraft and loose, flexible
extensions. Marksmanship was poor, the stalking instinct scarcely
existed, and the art of field-entrenchment was in a rudimentary stage.
On the other hand, disciplined valour and self-sacrifice, in a degree
unknown as yet to the Boers, offered substantial compensation for these
serious defects.

I pass to the Cavalry, the arm with which we are more immediately
concerned. The “Cavalry spirit,” when the war began, was essentially the
spirit described in the last chapter—the spirit, that is, of fighting on
horseback with a steel weapon. It was from this source that they were
taught to draw their inspiration for the great Cavalry virtues which may
all be summed up in the one word “dash.” The shock charge, founded on
high speed and knee-to-knee cohesion, was the supreme manifestation of
this spirit, the end to which all training led, and on which all
manœuvre was based. Reconnaissance and scouting nominally held a high
place in the scheme of education, but were in fact seriously prejudiced
by the excessive regard paid to the exactitude and precision of
movements in mass, which were to prove impracticable in the face of the
modern rifle. Individual training inevitably suffered. If fire-power in
the enemy, as a hindrance to mass and shock, was under-estimated,
fire-power as an auxiliary to the sword or lance was almost ignored. In
the current “Drill-Book” (1898), out of 450 pages, five were devoted to
“Dismounted Service,” as compared with twelve for “Ceremonial Escorts.”
Fire-action was treated as abnormal, and expressly contrasted with
“normal mounted action.” An inferior firearm, the short carbine, was
carried, but on the saddle, not, as it should be, on the back, and was
held in low esteem as essentially a weapon of defence, in
contradistinction to the steel, which is purely a weapon of offence. The
men, naturally enough, were poor shots and unaccustomed to skirmishing.
Their grand rôle was on horseback, not on foot. Fire-tactics signified
to them “dismounted tactics” in the most sterile sense of the
term—tactics, that is, devoid of aggressive mobility. Note the
interesting difference between this view and the original Boer view. The
Boers, too, may also be said to have regarded fire-tactics as
“dismounted tactics,” but only in this limited sense, that as yet they
had scarcely begun to reinforce the aggressive power of the rifle with
the aggressive mobility of the horse. In the minds of the Cavalry the
horse and the steel weapon were joint and inseparable ingredients of
aggressive tactical mobility. If we regard the horse in isolation as a
physical factor in combat, the Boers (following the formula suggested in
Chapter II.) overestimated his vulnerability and neglected his mobility.
The Cavalry did the opposite.

The standard of military education among officers, as throughout the
greater part of the army, was not high enough. If Bernhardi had written
“Cavalry in Future Wars” one year earlier, and had excited the interest
he has since excited, the difference might have been enormous, even if
his fallacies as well as his truths had been embraced. As it was, the
historical outlook was imitative of the Continental methods of the
sixties and seventies, which in their turn were imitative of still more
antiquated methods. The really great and stimulating Anglo-Saxon
precedent, the American Civil War, had had scarcely any effect on
Cavalry practice in this country, partly from inattention, partly
perhaps from the same mistaken impression which pervaded the German and
French schools, and was so soon to be shattered to pieces by our own
experience, that the methods of self-made volunteer troops afford little
or no instruction to regulars.

It is necessary to add that these observations are general. In every arm
there always have been and always will be differences between different
units, the consequence almost entirely of different degrees of ability
and energy in the officers, and, above all, in the commanding officer.
In the case of the Cavalry, methods being standardized throughout, the
important question was, when and in what volume would come the fresh
stream of initiative imperatively required? Very naturally, but most
unfortunately (for in regular corps influence from the top downwards is
of vital consequence), the senior men were the most conservative of all.
The hope lay mainly in junior men. How it materialized we shall see. In
the meantime ardour was universal, and the prime soldierly qualities of
physical courage, discipline, and endurance were, throughout all ranks
of the Cavalry, as in all branches of the service, at a high level.

The Mounted Infantry was a comparatively young, inadequately recognized
force, with few war traditions. Trained by able and intelligent
officers, themselves enthusiasts for the rifle, the force was eager to
gain distinction in the field, and to show that the rifle and the horse
could be vigorously and effectively combined. But the Cavalry theory,
modified in practice, undisputed in principle, hung heavy over its
prospects. The force was formed by abstractions from Infantry
regiments—a radically false system; it was taught deliberately that its
functions must, in the nature of things, be wholly different from and
subordinate to those of Cavalry; that reconnaissance, except for its own
protection, was outside its sphere; and that there was one function, the
“charge”—the noblest ideal of horsemen—to which it could never aspire.
In so far as the charge implied “shock” in its true sense of the
physical impact of one serried mass upon another serried mass, no fault
could be found with this restrictions. But, as I have suggested, to
mounted riflemen who realize their full potentialities, the charge
implies other things than shock. It denotes the culmination of
aggressive mobility. Aggressive mobility, therefore, overclouded by this
exterior motive of unattainable shock, was not before the war the
supreme ideal which it should have been, and could have been, to the
Mounted Infantry. Could have been, that is, if the magnitude of the task
involved in the education of riflemen for mounted work, even with the
limited aims in view, had been realized. Infantry soldiers, with all the
defects as well as all the virtues of Infantry training, thoroughly
imbued with the instinct for rigid formations, and at first unable to
ride, were the raw material, and a few months’ exercise with the horse
was considered sufficient to convert them into mounted riflemen. The
force, in short, as it entered the field, represented, both in
organization and training, one of those indefensible compromises between
foot-soldiers and horse-soldiers which will continue to be evolved as
long as ideas are confused by the belief that the steel weapon is, and
must be, the dominant weapon for horsemen. Happily for the Mounted
Infantry, war proved to be a great clarifier of ideas.

From the regular mounted troops of the home country we pass to that
great throng of volunteers—an army in itself—which, as the war
progressed, poured in ever-increasing volume into South Africa from
every part of the Queen’s dominions, or were raised within the borders
of South Africa itself. Known by a bewildering variety of
names—Yeomanry, Sharp-shooters, Horse, Light Horse, Mounted Infantry,
Mounted Rifles, Scouts, Borderers, Carbineers, Guides, and even Dragoons
and Lancers—they all in fact belonged to one distinct type, that of the
mounted rifleman. A small fraction carried steel weapons at the outset,
but none were seriously trained to shock; all relied on the rifle in
conjunction with the horse.

Whether, when they first took the field, the minds of these men
(regarded in the mass) were affected by a recognition, conscious or
subconscious, of a higher power known as shock transcending the humbler
functions of the rifle, and vested only in professional troops armed
with steel weapons, it is exceedingly difficult to say. At first
probably such a feeling had a strong, if unrecognized, effect on the
outlook of the mounted volunteers from the home country, as it certainly
affected that of the professional Mounted Infantry. The old territorial
Yeomanry force, at the time of the outbreak of war, did in fact carry a
steel weapon, and the new Yeomanry, improvised for the war, though they
came mainly from totally different classes from the old, and had little
in common with them but the name, could not be free from the
associations linked with the sword. To the Colonials, especially the
South Africans, who were deeply imbued with the Boer belief in the
rifle, the _arme blanche_ was probably little more than a race
tradition, exercising, perhaps, a sort of dim influence which they could
not have explained in words, but not consciously brought into line with
any practical scheme of mounted duties. The established volunteer corps,
from which the first Colonial mounted troops were derived, whether
inside or outside South Africa, had been designed for local defence, not
for Imperial co-operation. By a wise choice, for which we cannot be too
thankful, they had been trained, largely through the aid of Imperial
officers, almost entirely as mounted riflemen, without any explicit
understanding that they were to do functions subordinate or ancillary to
those of steel-armed professional Cavalry. As to aggressive mobility,
that was for them simply a question of fighting efficiency and
discipline, points in which they could not have been expected to reach
the standard attainable in permanent professional organizations.

In respect of these two points, fighting efficiency and discipline, all
writers have felt the difficulty of forming any general appreciation of
the irregular mounted troops, so heterogeneous was their composition, so
wide the variations of quality between contingents sent at different
times from the same source, so distractingly complicated the
vicissitudes both of name and composition through which many of the
corps went. It is enough for my purpose at this moment to note, first,
that all were enlisted originally for limited terms, and, second, that
the average excellence of the personnel was highest at the beginning,
and underwent a distinct decline as the war progressed. The decline set
in just when an opposite tendency was beginning to become visible among
the Boers, not in their case connected with reinforcements, for they had
none, but through a regeneration of existing elements. These facts have
a most important bearing on the development of mounted tactics.

These general observations on the volunteer mounted troops of the Empire
necessarily carry us beyond the actual military situation at the
outbreak of war. The Yeomanry and the vast majority of oversea
organizations had not been heard of then. So complete was the confidence
of the military authorities in the regular home troops that it was only
under strong governmental pressure that small detachments from the
self-governing colonies of Australasia and Canada were permitted to join
the flag, and of these, in compliance with an intimation that Infantry
would be preferred, only 775 officers and men, coming from Queensland,
New South Wales, New Zealand, and Victoria, were mounted. Of the British
Colonies in South Africa, Cape Colony had a normal volunteer force of
about 7,000, but mainly composed of Infantry, together with two
permanent mounted corps, the Cape Mounted Rifles and the Cape Mounted
Police, of whom about 1,000 men in all were available for the war. Far
away to the north two new volunteer regiments of mounted riflemen, the
Protectorate Regiment and the Rhodesia Regiment, were rapidly recruited
and trained in the two months preceding hostilities. Natal, by the
expansion _ad hoc_ of its normal volunteer force, was able to put a
total of rather more than 1,000 mounted men into the field, together
with 300 more drawn from the permanent Natal Mounted Police.

The Imperial Light Horse, with an original strength of 500, were ready
to take the field at once. Formed and equipped in Natal, but recruited
from among the best elements of the Uitlander population of the Rand,
this famous corps reached at once a high pitch of military efficiency.
Their Colonel was a brave and able Cavalry officer, who understood his
men and the work they would have to do, and had made no attempt to
impose upon them stereotyped Cavalry methods. Their strength lay in the
rifle and in the horse.

Such were the mounted troops of the two belligerent races. All were new
to civilized warfare on the scale now in prospect. All, with the single
exception of the British Cavalry, may be truly described as irregulars,
dependent mainly on their own native wit for the evolution of a good
system of fighting. Behind a great deal of over-confidence on both
sides, due to reciprocal misunderstandings of the lessons of the Majuba
campaign, there were not a few reservations and much curiosity as to the
relative value of weapons, as of many other things.

Before coming to actual hostilities I must deal briefly, even at this
early stage, with a question which must occupy our minds continually in
studying the mounted operations of the war, for upon the final answer to
it hangs the verdict upon the weapons. Were the conditions “abnormal”?
Were they abnormal—that is, in the sense that they did not give a fair
opportunity for testing the relative merits of the steel weapon and the
rifle? That is the narrow question before us, and I beg the reader to
concentrate upon it, without allowing his mind to be influenced by the
mass of irrelevant considerations which necessarily surround it. There
need be no mistake as to what is meant by “normal” in the minds of the
_arme blanche_ school. Their normal war is a war against one of the
great Continental armies, whose cavalries are penetrated with an even
stronger belief in the _arme blanche_ than our own. This is the special
eventuality for which we are supposed to prepare. Without pausing to
discuss the soundness of this view of “normality,” or the logical
consequences to which it would necessarily lead us, let us accept the
chosen ground of argument. Let us constantly be asking ourselves why
this or that set of conditions should not be reproduced in such a war,
and if they were so reproduced, which type of Cavalry—that relying
primarily on the “terror of cold steel,” or that relying primarily on
the rifle—would do the best. In these analogies let us picture Cavalry
in all their various functions, strategical or tactical, offensive or
protective, independent or in conjunction with other arms, and in
collision either with Cavalry, Infantry, or Artillery, fixing our
thought resolutely at every step on the weapon and the tactics
associated with it, and refusing to be led astray by circumstances which
have no direct or indirect bearing on these points. It is by no means an
easy task. Every war is abnormal in the sense that it differs from every
other war. The special peculiarities of the Boer War are on the surface,
patent to the most careless observer. But do they affect the point at

At present I only wish to dwell on two broad considerations—_personnel_
and _terrain_.

Humanly speaking, the Boers were very like ourselves. They were a white
race, with white ideals, of European descent, allied to us by blood, and
allied, if we are thinking of the German parallel, with the Germans.
Their religion was our religion. Their democratic instincts were as
strong as our own, and stronger than those of the Germans. In spite of a
multitude of points of contrast, economic and social, there was in them
no fundamental abnormality of race or custom which would justify, _prima
facie_, the conclusion that their methods of warfare could never be, and
should never be, our methods of warfare. They were neither savages on
the one hand, nor Martians on the other.

The ground on which the war was fought was only abnormal in the sense
that it was abnormally favourable to the _arme blanche_. As I pointed
out in the last chapter, one of the four great conditions precedent to
shock is open country. From a military point of view, no country in the
world is more favourable to the _arme blanche_ than South Africa.
Whether in regard to natural topography, or topography as modified by
man, it is incomparably more “open” than any possible European theatre
of war, including Great Britain, the least open of all. There are
mountain ranges, one of which became the scene of Buller’s long Natal
campaign, and rugged hilly districts, as there are in Europe; but the
predominant characteristic is that of vast, undulating plains, varied by
sharper inequities, by ridges, isolated heights, and minor ranges of
hills. These features frequently became centres of conflict, simply
because they supplied strong positions. Of features due to the presence
of man or under the control of man, of woodlands, gardens, orchards,
fences, walls, ditches, parks, enclosures, of towns and the intricate
semi-urban environment of towns, of all the thousand-and-one
obstructions to free mounted movement which characterize populous,
highly-developed countries, South Africa may be said to have been almost
destitute. The barbed-wire boundary fences of the very extensive farms
into which the country was divided were the commonest artificial

So much for the tactical opportunities of the _arme blanche_. By an
unavoidable paradox, ground tactically fit for that weapon is the least
favourable for scouting and reconnaissance. It is a pity that the words
which now head chapter vi. of “Cavalry Training” were not there in 1899.
“The increased power of modern firearms and the introduction of
smokeless powder have made it both more difficult and more necessary to
obtain information.” In that open country and with their long rifles,
the Boers outmatched our Cavalry scouts from the first. As regards local
intelligence, Natal and Cape Colony, the scenes of the most critical
fighting, were British territory, where there was an abundance of
skilled aid. It is true that in parts of Cape Colony there was a large,
and in Natal a small, unfriendly Dutch element. But that is a more
favourable state of things than a population entirely hostile. And when,
later, the task of repulse ended, and that of invasion began, and we
were faced with that very problem of a hostile population, even then it
was never wholly hostile. Besides a sprinkling of farmers British by
birth or sympathy, beside the lower class of Dutch _bywoner_, which from
the first showed signs of pliancy, and as time went on supplied us with
an increasing number of spies, besides the native races from whom we
ultimately obtained far more aid than the Boers, we derived enormous
advantage from the large urban British element in the Transvaal, which
gave us intelligence officers like Woolls-Sampson, and fine corps like
the Imperial Light Horse, composed of men who knew the language and
customs of the country. But supposing every soul in the country, white
and native, man, woman, and child, had been bitterly hostile from the
first, that surely is not to be regarded as an abnormal circumstance in
war. On the contrary, it is one of the very difficulties which Cavalry
exist to overcome. Bernhardi, it is interesting to note, lays special
emphasis on this difficulty as one likely to prove increasingly serious
in future wars.[16] After all, the object of war is to conquer, and
people resent being conquered.


Footnote 16:

  “Cavalry in Future Wars,” p. 10, and elsewhere.


For my facts I shall rely mainly on our own “Official History,” so far
as it has progressed, and on the _Times_ History, which is already
complete. Though they often differ in criticism, these two histories
tally with remarkable closeness in matters of fact. The official volume
dealing with the greater part of the guerilla war is not yet published.

                               CHAPTER IV

  NOTE ON NOMENCLATURE.—Throughout the chapters dealing with the Boer
  War I use the expression “Cavalry” to mean British regular Cavalry. I
  use the expression “Mounted Infantry” to mean regular British Mounted
  Infantry (_i.e._, drawn from Infantry battalions). I use the general
  expression “mounted riflemen” to cover all mounted troops, Boer or
  British, armed only with the rifle.

The campaign opened in Natal with the attempt of General Sir W. Penn
Symons, with 4,000 men and 18 guns, to hold the untenable Northern
position at Dundee against a greatly superior converging force of
Joubert’s Transvaalers. Sir George White, who only with reluctance had
consented to this attempt, was concentrating at Ladysmith, and facing
the Free Staters; while midway between White and Symons a detached Boer
force, 900 strong, under Koch, war about to plant itself upon the
railway connecting Dundee and Ladysmith. Symons’s mounted troops were
one regiment of Cavalry, three companies of Mounted Infantry drawn from
the three battalions which formed his Infantry brigade, a squadron of
Natal Carbineers, and a few picked Guides. Joubert’s southward advance
from the frontier was excessively slow—seventy miles in a week. Watched
and reported by Cavalry and other patrols, it nevertheless culminated in
a complete surprise of the British camp at dawn on October 20, 1899, by
Meyer’s force of some 4,000 men and 8 guns. The General’s overconfidence
was the principal cause of this surprise, and it is interesting to note
that his reason for not establishing more Cavalry pickets to supplement
the inadequate system of defence in the heights above the Dundee valley
was that he wished to keep the Cavalry fresh—fresh, that is, for shock
action. The battle of Talana was, from our point of view, an Infantry
fight, fought with splendid spirit and tenacity, and, for the moment, a
victory. From the Boer point of view, in this case, as in all others, it
was a mounted rifleman’s fight. Our own mounted troops were employed
with an aggressive purpose, that of turning the Boer right and
intercepting the Boer retreat. They consisted of Cavalry and Mounted
Infantry acting in concert, the latter, according to the regulations of
that period, being regarded as a “valuable auxiliary to the former.” The
movement began well. An admirable, but also a somewhat dangerous
position, was gained well behind the main Boer force, within range of
its led horses and commanding its line of retreat, at a moment when
retreat was just setting in. Stratagem and fire-action combined might
have produced great results. Shock was preferred. A few Boers were
sabred, some thirty prisoners were taken, and then the movement
collapsed. The Boers took the offence. The commanding officer on our
side lost his head, and, after much difficulty, half the Cavalry got
back without their prisoners to the British lines; the rest of the
force, after a running fight, in which the rifles of the Mounted
Infantry were the only effective means of defence, was surrounded and
forced to surrender. It would be unjust and undiscerning to make too
much of this opening episode. Nevertheless, in so far as the value of
the _arme blanche_ was concerned, not merely as a weapon, but as an
inspiration of resourceful and effective manœuvre, the incident was
of bad augury.

The next day, October 21, came Elandslaagte, fought on the line of
communication connecting Dundee and Ladysmith between Koch’s force of
900 men and 2 guns, planted astride the railway, and a mixed force of
3,500 men and 18 guns sent out by White from Ladysmith under command of
General French. Our mounted troops were three squadrons of Cavalry, five
of the Imperial Light Horse, and a few Natal volunteers. The fighting,
which ended brilliantly for ourselves, was highly honourable to both
sides. From the Boer point of view, it consisted in a magnificently
stubborn defence of a strong position by an inferior force of mounted
riflemen, fighting on foot up to the moment of actual contact, and under
crushingly superior Artillery fire. From our point of view, with one
interesting novelty, to which I shall refer later, it was a plain, hard,
straightforward fight with the three arms co-operating on thoroughly
conventional lines: the Infantry carrying through a well-planned frontal
attack with remarkable dash; the Artillery shelling the main position;
the Cavalry watching both flanks during the progress of the action, and,
just at dusk, after the final repulse of the enemy from the main
position, pursuing with the lance and sword. The pursuit, carried on for
about a mile and a half with vigour and enthusiasm, touched only a
portion of the retreating burghers, but, so far as it went, it was
effective: it struck the “terror of cold steel” into the pursued with
scarcely any loss to the two squadrons engaged; it caused casualties and
surrenders, though precisely to what extent is difficult to say. No
figures exist. In short, the Cavalry had performed with considerable
success the peculiar function traditionally assigned to their arm.

Now let us turn to the unconventional feature of this fight. The
Imperial Light Horse, early on the same morning, had made the
reconnaissance on which the battle scheme was founded, and had seized
and held necessary tactical points. They had rushed the railway-station
by a gallop in open order. Together with the Cavalry (who came out later
with the main force from Ladysmith) they had prepared the way for the
Infantry advance, and had helped to clear a flank during the early part
of the action. But in addition to these duties they dismounted and
joined with the Infantry in the assault of the main position, took a
prominent and, at one critical moment, a decisive share in the desperate
fighting which wrested it from the Boers, and suffered losses (including
that of their brave Colonel) heavier than most of the units engaged.

Mr. Goldman, in remarking on Elandslaagte, makes the strange comment
that the Imperial Light Horse were “trained as Cavalry,” and adduces
their exploits on this occasion as an example of the value of that arm
in South Africa.[17] This is the first of many misinterpretations upon
which I shall have to comment. For all practical purposes the Imperial
Light Horse were mounted riflemen, who used rifles, not carbines, and,
as far as I know, never in all their history made or attempted to make
an _arme blanche_ charge, yet were very effective in action, and were
very fair scouts. Used for the bloody assault at Elandslaagte, they
could not also be used for the pursuit. If they had not joined in the
assault, could they, or troops of their type, have been used in an
equally effective way for the pursuit? The inquiry compels us to look
back a little more closely at the conditions of the charge.


Footnote 17:

  “With French in South Africa,” p. 426.


The following points should be noted:

1. For the troops engaged on both sides this was the first day of
hostilities. Steel-armed Cavalry was a new fact to the Boers. The steel
had the best chance it ever was to have of inspiring “terror.”

2. There were no Boer reserves left to cover the retreat.

3. The light was failing, a circumstance favourable to the steel,
unfavourable to fire. (Contrast the broad daylight at Talana, when the
Boers rallied and outmanœuvred the cavalry.) _Some_ light is
necessary, of course, but, within obvious limits, the poorer the better.

4. The ground was as open and smooth as Cavalry on the average can
expect. Dongas and rocks during the initial advance only; from within
300 yards of the enemy and onwards (according to the “Official History”)
not a lawn, but fair galloping ground.

5. Horses and men fresh, not hitherto seriously engaged. Why? Because
there had been no opportunity for the use of steel.

6. The enemy, already shaken and spent by a hard fire-fight on foot,
were retreating at their usual ambling trot, in loose, formless groups;
“raggedly streaming,” as the Official Historian correctly puts it. He
adds that this objective, “a crowd in the loose disorder of defeat,
seemed to offer an indefinite object for a charge,” but “that there was
no likelihood of a better whilst sufficient light remained.” I must
digress for a moment on that illuminating _obiter dictum_, because it
gives a clue to the Cavalry view of Cavalry work. The historian is
regretting the absence of a chance for “shock,” in its literal and in
its only accurate meaning, of the collision of _two_ massed bodies; two,
and both massed. The Boers were not massed; clearly, therefore, it was
of no use for the Cavalry to adopt mass, and in point of fact they
charged with “extended files.” There could be no “shock,” therefore—that
is, violent physical impact—and there was in fact none. The Boers were
ridden down individually. What the official commentator does not
apprehend is that this absence of mass, in his view an unfortunate
drawback, was in fact one of the very conditions which made the charge
possible. It was a corollary to the beaten, spent state of the pursued.
Ragged streaming away is a characteristic of defeated troops in retreat.
Cohesion means morale, and morale means the will and power to retaliate.
Nor is it only a question of morale. The physical conditions of the
preceding fire-fight determine the nature of the retreat. In this case
some 900 Boers, in widely extended order, had been defending a line
nearly two miles long against an enemy proportionately extended, both
extensions being truly normal—that is to say, dictated by the range and
deadliness of the modern rifle. Retreat from such a line, immediately
after a failure to withstand a punishing assault, pressed in some
quarters to the bayonet’s point, excludes cohesion in any troops,
European or extra-European. Boers, as I pointed out in the previous
chapter, never troubled much about set formations at any time, whether
or no there was time for them, not through incapacity, but simply
because they did not need them, and not needing them were better without
them. For them, therefore, this kind of ragged retreat was not solely
the result of the beating they had suffered. Normal in any troops, it
was normal in a peculiar sense with them.

I dwell on this point at some length, not because of the intrinsic
importance of this fight, or of the Official Historian’s comment upon
the pursuit (for he may have written thoughtlessly), but because it
directly raises the big issue dealt with in my analysis of the physical
problem in Chapter II. I enumerated there the many crushing limitations
which surround the use of real shock against riflemen, mounted or on
foot, and I instanced the pursuit of beaten troops as one of those rare
cases where the steel weapon has its best opening. But I also pointed
out that this was a case where any well-mounted troops, however armed,
have a good opening; and that brings us back to the point from which we
started in comparing, for the sake of illustration, the work of the
Imperial Light Horse and the Cavalry at Elandslaagte. First, however,
let us recapitulate the six favourable conditions of this Cavalry

(1) Novelty of the steel. (2) No Boer reserves. (3) Bad light. (4) Open
and smooth ground. (5) Fresh horses and men. (6) Ragged retreat of
beaten enemy.

This may be regarded as a rare combination of ideal conditions; how rare
will be seen as the war proceeds.

Now for the Imperial Light Horse, whom, let me say, I am regarding, not
as an individual regimental unit, but as a type of what good riflemen
can do, just as the Cavalry squadrons engaged were types of what
Cavalry, decidedly good according to the standard of their time, could

I asked, would the Imperial Light Horse, if they had not been used for
the fire-fight, have been capable of an equally effective pursuit
without the use of steel weapons? The speculation, of course, though
instructive, is largely academical, the crucial point being that they
_had_ been used for the preceding fire-fight. However, for the sake of
argument, we must vest them with favourable condition No. 5, “Fresh
horses and men.” Nos. 2, 4, and 6 would have been equally applicable to
them; No. 1 is irrelevant. There remains No. 3, “Failing light.” This
would have been distinctly adverse to the accurate use of the rifle, but
at the same time let us remember the fundamental distinction between the
rifle and the steel—that is, range. Posted, for the sake of argument, in
the spot where the Cavalry were posted (threatening the enemy’s right
rear), the Imperial Light Horse would at once have had the first bodies
of retreating Boers well within the range of vulnerability: 500 yards is
the official estimate. Yes, but fire at this moment would no doubt have
meant delay, and caused less damage to the Boers than the undelayed
steel-armed Cavalry. Granted; a point to the Cavalry. Let us go on.
After routing a first batch in a long gallop, the Cavalry turned on
their tracks, met a second batch, and scattered and harassed these men
also. Would not the Imperial Light Horse meanwhile have had a good
chance of intercepting these men? Finally, picture the irregular corps
as capable of fire from the saddle, and keep that point in your mind for
future illustration.

All this is the veriest sketch, suggestive of the factors inherent in
mounted combats, but utterly unreal, because it is utterly impossible to
postulate identical circumstances for steel-action and fire-action. The
essence of the matter is that the Imperial Light Horse, by aptitude,
training, and equipment, were capable of joining effectively in the
Infantry assault of the main position, and that the Cavalry, by
aptitude, training, and equipment (they carried the short carbine), were
neither capable of, nor designed for, similar intervention. If the
Colonials had not been used for the main assault, the course of the
battle might have been changed. The assault might have failed (in the
penultimate phase there was an exceedingly critical revival on the Boer
left flank, checked by the Gordons and Imperial Light Horse combined),
or the assault might have been consummated too late to give to the
Cavalry the margin of light necessary for their pursuit. Or—and this is
really the most pertinent and suggestive eventuality—the Imperial Light
Horse used as their capacity deserved, might have operated actively on
the enemy’s rear at an earlier period, when the Cavalry was still
passive. Result, a change of battle conditions, which defies
speculation. On the other hand, we can, to a certain extent, isolate our
view of the Cavalry exploit. They did, under ideal conditions, exactly
what they were trained to do, and I do not think they, or any other
Cavalry similarly trained, could have done it better.

In dwelling so long upon the topic of pursuit we must remember that
there was no question at any moment of a charge by Cavalry either upon
_unbroken_ riflemen or upon led horses. Nor (save in the case of the
rush upon the station by the Imperial Light Horse) was there any attempt
on the part of the mounted riflemen on either side, Boer or British, to
carry aggressive mobility to the point of charging on horseback into
point-blank range of riflemen on foot.[18] Developments of that sort
were still a long way off.


Footnote 18:

  Unless the last Boer rush was of this character. The “Official
  History” (vol. i., p. 169) says that fifty Boers “charged boldly
  uphill” to within twenty yards of the crest held by the Gordons and
  the Imperial Light Horse, and then used their rifles. Whether they
  charged mounted is not stated.


I have enlarged so much on this small fight in order to focus the
reader’s attention upon the principles it illustrates. Let him study it
in conjunction with the action of Talana, which preceded it, and with
all the multitude of fights which followed it, in the next two and a
half years. Let him begin at once to picture parallels in European
warfare, on a bigger scale or smaller scale, and ask whether they tell
for or against the _arme blanche_, and why? Imagine the 900 Boers as a
German force, either of Cavalry or of the three arms in normal
proportion, and without anything in the least degree resembling either
our Imperial Light Horse or the militant burgher. Should we have won
more or less easily? Or imagine 3,500 Germans, constituted as before,
tackling the 900 Boers. Instead of moderately open ground, suppose
ground diversified with copses, walls, hedges, a sunk lane or two. Make
any permutations or suppositions that you please, and test each by South
African facts.

Finally, ask yourself at every step, on which method, that of the _arme
blanche_ or the rifle, will it pay best in the long-run to train mounted

                               CHAPTER V

                       OCTOBER TO DECEMBER, 1899.

In these two opening combats of the war the steel weapon had had its
first rebuff and its first success. What was to happen now?

Immediately after Elandslaagte, French’s force, having disposed of Koch,
was recalled by White to Ladysmith (October 22). On the same night the
Dundee force, now in a situation of great and growing peril from
Joubert’s united commandos, was forced to retreat hurriedly and secretly
to Ladysmith. White sent out 5,300 men to cover the last stage of the
retreat against any possible interruption from the 6,000 Free Staters
who were threatening Ladysmith from the west. Hence the action of
Rietfontein (October 24), a desultory fire-fight, for the most part at
very long ranges, against an invisible and intangible enemy; in its
proof of the mysterious, far-reaching potency of the rifle, a pregnant
contrast to the close encounters at Talana and Elandslaagte.

But it was six days later, at the battle of Ladysmith (or Lombard’s
Kop), that the most definite and substantial proof was given of the
superiority of the rifle over the steel. Joubert had closed on Ladysmith
with 12,000 men. White, also with 12,000 men, of whom 3,000 were
mounted, conceived a bold and elaborate plan of attack designed not
merely to drive the Boers back, but to inflict a crushing defeat. To his
two mounted brigades (each composed of two Cavalry regiments and a corps
of Colonial mounted riflemen) White assigned functions which were
typical of the military theory of that day. One was to co-operate with
the Infantry attack on the right, wheeling wide round the flank, and
getting behind the enemy’s left. The other, held in reserve behind our
left Infantry attack, was designed, when both attacks had succeeded, to
cut in upon the Boer line of retreat (which lay towards the left or
north), and pursue the beaten burghers. In order to facilitate the
scheme of pursuit, an Infantry force had been detached by night to seize
a pass—Nicholson’s Nek, of evil memory—which the Cavalry would have to
surmount before debouching upon the plain. Since the force so detached
suffered disaster, and the whole of White’s attack, here and elsewhere,
failed, the left mounted brigade had very little to do. The right
mounted brigade, whose work began with daylight, failed to effect the
purpose assigned to it. Fire-tactics were immediately imposed upon it by
the enemy’s mounted riflemen operating on rocky, bushy ground, and in
fire-tactics the Mauser, in the words of the “Official History,” at once
“dominated the carbine.” Advance was impossible; proper flank support to
the Infantry was scarcely less difficult; even the retreat at the end of
the day’s fighting was far from an able performance. French, who led the
brigade, was not the French of a fortnight later, when the horse and the
steel weapon were beginning to be dissociated after their long
traditional partnership. For the present the fact was painfully obvious
that the only professional troops endowed with the mobility of the Boers
were the least capable of grappling with the Boers in action.

But did mobility, backed by the rifle, inspire dash in the Boers? At
this period, except in isolated cases, no. The inertia, so
disproportionate to their tactical flexibility and brilliant skirmishing
skill, was never more apparent than at the close of this battle outside
Ladysmith, when White began his retreat. No such opportunity was ever to
present itself again for a really decisive victory. Joubert regarded the
action as a defensive action, and had issued general orders against a
pursuit. On the other hand, a simple burgher, Christian de Wet, had
inspired the one genuinely aggressive enterprise which distinguished the
Boer movements on this day—namely, the attack and capture of the
detached force at Nicholson’s Nek. This—like the capture of Majuba
nearly twenty years earlier—was a feat of stalking pure and simple, with
which the horse had little to do, save that it bore the riflemen rapidly
from a distant part of the field into the outermost fringe of the zone
of combat. The outermost fringe—that is the point to watch. Could horses
penetrate the inner fringe under rifle-fire and so precipitate the
decisive phase of a conflict? While waiting for the answer let us be
sensible and remember that after all the main thing is to win fights.
Galloping under fire is only a means to an end. Stalking under fire
requires nearly as much dash to be effective.

The long siege of Ladysmith now virtually began. By an error of judgment
all the mounted troops, including the Cavalry regiments, were retained
within the lines, and were thus practically demobilized for five months.
Happily for our arms, however, French and his staff just succeeded in
leaving the town for the south before investment was complete. Happily,
too, the strenuous efforts to raise more volunteer mounted troops within
South Africa were now bearing fruit. Two fine but wholly raw regiments,
Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry and Bethune’s Mounted Infantry, were
able to strengthen the miserably scanty forces which, pending the
arrival of Buller and heavy reinforcements from England and the Cape,
stood between Southern Natal and invasion. Even so, there was nothing
during the first half of November to stop Joubert with the forces at his
disposal from a vigorous raid on Maritzburg, and even on Durban. But his
tactical inertia was exceeded by his strategical inertia. Egged on by
Louis Botha, he did indeed initiate a raid with a force of over 3,000
picked men on picked horses, but it degenerated into a leisurely foray
for loot and cattle. The time for action slipped by. British troops were
pouring into Natal to redress the strategical balance, and in the last
week of November the Boer force withdrew behind the Tugela, there, aided
by abstraction from the investing force, to begin their long and
desperate struggle to prevent the relief of Ladysmith.

Colenso, fought on December 15, was the first great event in this
historic conflict. From our point of view, like all the subsequent
fights in Natal, it needs very little comment. Buller, commanding a
force of 18,000 men, of whom 2,500 were mounted, made a frontal attack
with his Infantry and guns upon an immensely strong entrenched position
held by 6,000 Boers. He failed, inflicted only nominal loss on the
enemy, suffered 1,100 casualties himself, and lost ten guns. Two Cavalry
regiments formed the professional nucleus of the mounted brigade; the
rest were raw irregulars. There were Bethune’s and Thorneycroft’s
Mounted Infantry, who, in the fighting around Estcourt three weeks
earlier, had been just blooded and no more, a squadron of Imperial Light
Horse and some Natal volunteers who had had much the same experience,
and the newly enlisted South African Light Horse, who had not yet fired
a shot. Reconnaissance prior to the battle had been little more than
nominal. Pitted against the Boer outposts—expert shots all of them—our
scouts had rarely been able to get near the enemy’s lines. The Tugela
fords were not properly known; the enemy’s principal positions were but
dimly conjectured. Artillery fire was the substitute for reconnaissance,
and that produced no response from the crafty burghers.

In the battle itself the rifle from first to last governed tactics. The
aggressive task given to the mounted brigade was the attack upon
Hlwangwane Mountain, the great natural outwork upon which the Boer left
flank rested. The irregulars were chosen for this attack, and rightly
chosen, because rifles were absolutely essential. They made a plucky but
vain effort to carry a strong position strongly held, and extricated
themselves with some difficulty at the end of the day. The work of the
Cavalry was confined to covering their retreat. As at Ladysmith, there
was no opportunity for the steel, not from any chance causes, but
because the rifle saw to it that no such opportunity should be allowed
to occur.

Colenso was one of the three defeats in that sad week of mid-December,
when the nation first realized the magnitude of the enterprise it had
undertaken in South Africa. Let us carry events in other quarters of the
field of war up to the same point, with special emphasis on the use of
mounted troops.

Far up in the north the investment of Mafeking had begun immediately
after the declaration of war (October 12). In a week the whole of the
railway from Mafeking to Orange River was in Boer hands, and on the 23rd
Kimberley was definitely invested. On no portion of this line were there
any regular mounted troops, and of the local levies the only mobile
force outside a besieged town was the Rhodesian Regiment of mounted
riflemen, 450 strong, based on Tuli and commanded by Plumer, who, with
this little handful of men and his own nerve and resource, did
extraordinarily good work in threatening the Northern Transvaal, and at
a later period in aiding in the relief of Mafeking.

Meanwhile the Boer invasion of Southern Cape Colony hung fire for three
full weeks, and when it at last began, on November 1, the day Buller
landed in South Africa, it was dilatory and methodless. Still, the
strategical situation for ourselves was serious. White’s investment in
Ladysmith, and the consequent danger to Southern Natal, had dislocated
the entire scheme of British strategy, which was founded upon a resolve
to land a whole Army Corps in Cape Colony and advance straight upon
Bloemfontein and Pretoria. Buller’s decision, as we know, was to divert
the greater part of his Army Corps to Natal, take command there himself,
and make the relief of Ladysmith the primary British object. Probably
the decision was the best that could have been come to, but it involved
the dissolution of the Army Corps as an organized instrument of
conquest, and the reduction of the grand scheme of irruption upon the
enemy’s capital to a minor scheme of advance up the western railway line
for the relief of Kimberley. In the meantime, and until a fresh army
could be sent out from England, the vital portions of Cape Colony,
comprising the great ports and the system of communications radiating
therefrom, could only be protected against invasion by a mere
demonstration of force exercised in the midst of districts teeming with

Happily the Boer leaders had no eye for aggressive strategy, nor indeed
any military organization on which to base aggressive strategy. Absorbed
by the prospect of capturing Mafeking and Kimberley, just as in Natal
they were absorbed by the prospect of capturing Ladysmith, they fell
naturally in both cases into an attitude of strategical defence—defence
against the relief of the towns they were investing. The same feebleness
which characterized the raid upon Southern Natal early in November
characterized the straggling invasion of Southern Cape Colony at the
same period. Nevertheless, it was no light task for us to conceal our
weakness in this quarter, and, with a thin containing line of troops
gathered from the fragments of the old Army Corps, to hold in play
greatly superior Boer forces. It was French who was called to undertake
this delicate and difficult duty. How he performed it I shall relate in
the next chapter. For the present, let us briefly review Methuen’s
advance from Orange River towards Kimberley.

Methuen started on November 20 with a total force of 10,000 men,
including 7,000 Infantry, 16 guns, and only 1,000 mounted men. The
professional mounted element was represented by one Cavalry regiment,
and three companies of regular Mounted Infantry; the irregular element
by Rimington’s Guides and a handful of New South Wales Lancers. Methuen,
therefore, was relatively weaker in mounted troops than any leader in
Natal, and his operations provide proportionately less material for
criticizing mounted tactics and the weapons suitable thereto. I say
“proportionately” less, because, as I pointed out in my preliminary
chapter upon the numbers and quality of the British and Boer mounted
troops, we cannot reckon the Boers twice over, once in their capacity as
dismounted riflemen holding positions against our Infantry, and a second
time as mobile riflemen available for mounted evolutions against our
Cavalry. Yet that strange error has been constantly made, and among
other cases in the case of Methuen’s first three battles—Belmont
(November 23), Graspan (November 25), and Modder River (November 28), in
the first two of which the total British force engaged outnumbered the
total Boer force engaged by nearly four to one, and in the third by more
than two to one, while the British mounted troops, reckoned
independently, amounted to half the Boer force and a quarter the Boer
force respectively. The enemy, with something over 2,000 men at Graspan
and Belmont, and with about 3,500 at Modder River, supported by
Artillery which never exceeded three guns and two pompoms, had to make
head against 7,000 British Infantry on the first two occasions, 6,800 on
the second, and 7,500 on the third, backed by Artillery which rose from
sixteen to twenty guns. The Infantry included the Brigade of Guards,
and, taken as a whole, were as fine a body of troops of their class as
could be found in any European country. These troops bore the brunt of
all three battles. They stormed the rocky heights at Belmont and Enslin,
and faced the yet more deadly fire which swept across the level plain
from the sunken beds of the Modder and the Riet. Whatever tactical
flexibility the Boers may have derived from their ponies in meeting
these attacks, nearly the whole of their small force was pinned to its
position until the crisis of each action, by the necessity of meeting
Infantry and Artillery attacks in superior force.

The British mounted troops, on a reasonable calculation of relative
strength, must be regarded as having been left approximately free for
supplementary independent action on the enemy’s flanks and rear. This is
how Methuen regarded them and endeavoured to use them. In the event,
though all worked their hardest, they had no appreciable effect on any
of the actions. The steel weapon was useless, although the terrain for
shock was ideal. The Cavalry were not adapted or properly trained for
fire-action, and the Mounted Infantry and irregulars, though trained and
adapted for it, were very backward in the art. Reconnaissance, too, was
inadequate. Methuen never knew with accuracy the strength and position
of the enemy, and at Modder River was totally at sea until his Infantry
was actually under heavy fire. The conditions no doubt were exacting. It
was not numbers, but a small quantity of picked scouts that was needed.
But Cavalry training had not encouraged that kind of individual merit.

The conventional comment upon all these actions has been that, owing to
the paucity and exhaustion of the mounted troops, we could not reap the
fruits of victory by sustained and destructive pursuit. There is truth,
of course, in the proposition, but only that sort of half-truth which
for instructional purposes is often more misleading than error.

As an example of this sort of mistaken criticism I will take the
Official Historian’s remarks upon Graspan, on which occasion Methuen
sent his mounted men in two bodies (one including two squadrons of
Lancers, the other one squadron) six miles to the rear of the enemy’s
main position with a view of surprising their laager and cutting off
their retreat. There were no Boer reserves here, save a small guard to
the laager, which, though sighted by the stronger British detachment,
was not attacked. The Boers ultimately dealt with were the same men who
had held the main position almost to the bayonet’s point against our
Infantry, and who retreated after their defeat at that point. So far
from intercepting or hampering the retreat, both bodies of mounted
troops, unable to effect a junction, were attacked in detail by the
fugitives, and put into dangerous positions, from which the fire-power
of their Mounted Infantry and mounted riflemen were the principal means
of extrication.

The Official Historian says: “At Graspan, as at Belmont, the open plains
across which the enemy was compelled to retire were singularly
favourable to Cavalry action, and had a satisfactory mounted brigade
with a Horse Artillery battery been available, the Boers could not have
effected their escape without suffering very heavy losses. Not only were
the mounted troops at Lord Methuen’s disposal insufficient numerically,
but their horses were already worn out by the heavy reconnaissance duty
which had of necessity been carried out day after day without relief
under the adverse conditions of a sandy soil, great heat, and a scarcity
of water.”

There could be no better instance than this of the way in which the
_arme blanche_ faith is perpetuated from generation to generation, in
defiance of experience. Every schoolboy has been puzzled by that
reiterated comment upon most of the battles of history, that the
exhaustion, or insufficiency, or feeble handling of the Cavalry by the
victorious side prevented the full fruits of victory being garnered in.
Why does this phenomenon happen so very often? he wonders. The
historians rarely tell him two simple reasons—namely:

1. That troops armed even with a poor firearm are rarely so utterly and
universally demoralized, even after a severe defeat, as to be unable to
check the onset even of fresh Cavalry.

2. That Cavalry, who in all normally constituted armies form but a small
proportion of the combatant troops, if they have worked hard in
reconnaissance on previous days, not to speak of their action in prior
phases of the battle, rarely find their horses fresh enough for long
sustained gallops against a retreating army. (The reader will remember
that this freshness is one of the four great conditions for the
successful use of the steel.)

Both these limitations, which are cumulative, must be constantly borne
in mind when criticizing mounted action in the South African War or any
other war, and it must be noted that the second limitation applies to
mounted riflemen, as well as to Cavalry, with this important
reservation, that fire-action very often enables the former to dispense
with long gallops, while for the steel weapon nothing short of a
hand-to-hand _mêlée_, attained through the medium of the “charge,” is of
any use at all.

Now what moral does the Official Historian draw from Graspan? His
conclusion amounts to this, that if, in addition to our Infantry and
sixteen field and naval guns, and in addition to about 900 mounted
troops whose horses were worn out with reconnaissance, we had had a
“satisfactory” mounted brigade (and the context shows that he means a
brigade of Cavalry) and a battery of Horse Artillery, both fresh for
pursuit and with an ideal terrain over which to pursue, the Boers, 2,000
to 3,000 in number, many of them just as tired as our men by long rides
to the field and by reconnaissance, would not have effected their escape
without heavy losses. If we could only have everything always as we wish
it! Unfortunately, in most wars the kind of conditions imagined by the
critic are Utopian. If we count on obtaining anything like such a
superiority over any European foe, we are living in a fool’s paradise.
Instead of complaining of our bad luck in fighting against the Boers, we
ought to congratulate ourselves upon our advantages, and search coldly
and unflinchingly for the causes which enabled so small a people to
withstand a powerful Empire for so long.

In the light of common sense, what is the most striking feature of
Graspan and of all these other fights? Surely the power of a small
number of mounted riflemen, skilled in the management of the horse and
skilled in the use of the modern firearm, to withstand greatly superior
forces framed upon the European model, even allowing for cases where the
proportion of mounted troops did not reach the normal European standard.
The one thing emphatically that these fights in South Africa do _not_
prove is that we wanted more steel-armed horsemen. The only way of
proving that we did involves that _reductio ad absurdum_ of the steel
weapon which the Official Historian unconsciously finds himself drawn to
embrace. For that is what it comes to. Given a force of mounted troops
approximately equal to the whole Boer force, plus a threefold
superiority in Infantry and guns, and we should have turned defeat into
destruction. During an important part of the campaign, as I shall
afterwards show, we did actually obtain something like these very
conditions, but in only one instance were able to make destructive use
of them, and in that instance solely through the agency of the firearm.

Before leaving Graspan, let us note for future use that on two occasions
parties of Boers tried to ride down British mounted troops (both Cavalry
and Mounted Infantry) in the open. The attempts failed, but there was no
retort in kind. De la Rey was in command of the Boer force on this day.
It will be interesting to observe his use of the mounted charge at a
later period of the war.

At Magersfontein, on December 10, Methuen’s enterprise for the relief of
Kimberley came to an abrupt end. Since the battle of Modder River,
twelve days earlier, both sides had been reinforced. The Boers, holding
a strong entrenched position under Cronje, were now some 7,000 in number
with 5 guns and some pompoms. Methuen had received a brigade of
Infantry, another Cavalry regiment, a fourth company of Mounted
Infantry, and a battery of Horse Artillery. Altogether he had 11,000
Infantry, 1,600 mounted troops, and 33 guns (not counting a large number
of machine guns)—that is to say, a total superiority of about two to
one, and in guns of about six to one. Between a third and a quarter of
the Boer force—representing their right—was not engaged in the battle.
About seven-eighths of our force was engaged.

It is scarcely necessary to recall the tragic catastrophe which befell
the Highland Brigade in their night attack upon the key of the Boer
position, Magersfontein Hill, where the enemy’s centre rested. The rest
of the battle, from the British point of view, resolved itself into a
successful effort to save this isolated brigade from total annihilation,
and an unsuccessful effort to break through the Boer left, which was
flung forward crescent-wise over undulating, bushy ground. The whole
battle was a fire-battle; the rifle supreme, the British guns of very
little aggressive killing value, though potentially of high defensive
value in preventing Boer counter-strokes. Horses on both sides were in
the background. With the exception of some irregulars on our extreme
left, all our mounted troops, including the Cavalry, fought on foot like
the Infantry. The two Lancer regiments, their equipment and habits
considered, did particularly well, but not, let it be remembered, in the
capacity for which they had undergone nineteen-twentieths of their
severe and elaborate training. I hope that here, as at Colenso, the
reader will mentally figure his European parallels, substituting
whatever categories of troops he pleases, in whatever relative strength,
and on whatever terrain. We may remark that the topography of
Magersfontein was in no sense peculiar. The position was not nearly as
strong as at Colenso, where a river divided the combatants. Nor was it
stronger than the averagely strong defensive position in Europe. The
height of Magersfontein Kopje had no significance; for, like shrewd
soldiers, the Boers had discovered that it is the forward and lowest
slopes of a hill which give the most deadly field of fire, and it was
these which they defended. The position was entrenched with peculiar
skill, and held by peculiarly steady and accurate marksmen—that was all.
These marksmen were mounted riflemen, many of whom had ridden to join
Cronje from distant points. If they had been shock-trained European
horsemen, they could neither have entrenched nor held the position.
Though they scarcely used their horses at all during the action, the
horses (like their cumbrous and bulky transport) were there, out of
range, in almost defenceless knots and groups, vulnerable to just the
sort of attack which Cavalry are supposed to be able to deliver.
Separation from their horses, it may be observed, did not perturb these
riflemen in the manner in which mounted riflemen are always, in Cavalry
theory, supposed to be perturbed. They sat in narrow ditches on nearly
level ground, from which retreat meant exposure to a withering storm of
gun and rifle fire. Nor on this occasion is it easy to impute lack of
aggressive dash to the Boers. Very few troops so situated and so
outmatched in numbers and Artillery could have launched counter-strokes,
whether mounted or on foot. That is a point which must be kept in mind
whenever we compare the action of a small force of high mobility against
a large force of low mobility. The defensive power of the former is far
greater in proportion than its offensive power.

While the Highland Brigade was moving “ghost-like to its doom” in the
dark morning hours of December 10, Gatacre’s force—200 miles away in
Cape Colony—was approaching an even worse fate at Stormberg. This
unhappy affair need not detain us long. It was a case of a mismanaged
night attack by 1,850 Infantry, 450 regular Mounted Infantry, and 12
guns, upon 1,700 Boers. Although the surprise was complete, ignorance of
the topography and the exhaustion of the troops involved our force in
disastrous failure. Our Mounted Infantry escorted the guns and covered
the final retreat, but took no part in the critical fighting. So far as
mounted lessons are concerned, the moral was against the Boers. Here,
certainly, they showed a marked lack of aggressive mobility. When total
destruction of the British force was well within their grasp, they were
content with a partial, if substantial, success. There was no real
pursuit, even by two fresh commandos which appeared on the flank of the
retreat. If the action stood alone, it might be plausibly conjectured
that the absence of a steel weapon was accountable for this slackness. A
review of the whole war disposes of the supposition.

Colenso, Magersfontein, Stormberg, three decided checks in three widely
distant areas of the theatre of war, constituted the “Black Week” of
mid-December, 1899. With the single exception of the charge at
Elandslaagte, on the second day of hostilities, the sword and lance had
effected nothing.

                               CHAPTER VI
                        COLESBERG AND KIMBERLEY

                   DECEMBER, 1899, TO FEBRUARY, 1900.

The immediate effects of these events may be put under four heads:

1. A national and Imperial awakening to the greatness of the emergency.

2. The appointment of Lord Roberts to the supreme command in South

3. Large additional reinforcements of regular troops of all three arms,
and of militia.

4. The improvisation of large numbers of additional mounted troops.
These belonged to three categories:

(_a_) Three thousand additional regular Mounted Infantry, improvised by
abstraction from every Infantry battalion in South Africa, with
additions from Great Britain.

(_b_) The enlistment and gradual despatch of large bodies of volunteer
mounted riflemen; from Great Britain (in the shape of 10,000 Yeomanry),
and from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

(_c_) The enlistment in South Africa of a quantity of new irregular
corps of mounted riflemen, including a local militia for the defence of
Cape Colony, the latter force being backed by Town Guards partly
composed of Infantry.

No question ever arose of training the mounted irregulars to the use of
the steel weapon. The long postponed decision to raise Yeomanry, for
example, was directly inspired by a telegram from Buller after Colenso,
asking for “8,000 irregular Mounted Infantry.” This view of present
requirements did not represent any radical change of military theory.
There was a general impression abroad, first, that this was a “peculiar”
war demanding peculiar expedients; second, that it was a comparatively
simple and easy matter to improvise mounted riflemen. The first
proposition was a misleading half-truth, the second a profound fallacy,
but the net result, however arrived at, was good. Outside the Cavalry
itself, it was already generally recognized that the rifle must, in this
war at any rate, be the dominant arm for mounted troops. Even among the
Cavalry, reliance upon the carbine and upon the support of mounted
riflemen had intensified with every day of hostilities.

As I explained in the previous chapter, the Natal entanglement, with the
wholesale diversion of troops which it entailed, had left Cape Colony in
mid-November almost defenceless against invasion, slowly and timidly as
that invasion was proceeding. It came at two principal points: in the
north-east by way of Aliwal North and Burgersdorp to Stormberg; and in
the centre by way of Norval’s Pont to Colesberg, and on towards
Naauwpoort. The former advance threatened only the East London
railway-line. The latter advance was the more serious in that it
endangered, not only Methuen’s communications with the south, but the
whole of the railway system from our two major ports, Cape Town and Port
Elizabeth, with its three cardinal junctions—De Aar, Naauwpoort, and
Rosmead. The three serious defeats of mid-December, and especially that
of Gatacre at Stormberg, increased the danger. At least six weeks must
elapse before sufficient reinforcements could be gathered for the great
projected advance under Roberts. Torpid as the Boer strategy was,
pusillanimity on our part might encourage them at any moment to greater
efforts. Our one resource for the time being was “bluff.” Buller had
realized this from the first, and given instructions accordingly to
French, who had taken up the command at Naauwpoort on November 20, with
orders to “worry” the enemy, and make, if he could, a bold show of
operating towards Colesberg.

French performed the difficult rôle allotted to him with complete
success. His operations lasted ten weeks, and included a multitude of
small schemes and enterprises, which it is impossible for me to recount
in detail. I can only sketch his doings and methods in broad outline,
with a special view to their bearing on the question of weapons for
mounted men.

Aggression, perpetual but never rash, was the keynote of his action. As
the handful of troops with which he started work slowly grew, by
accretion from the base, to a substantial force, he steadily pushed
forward, first to Arundel, then to Rensburg, then to a line immediately
threatening Colesberg, all the time widening his protective net to right
and left over the adjacent country. His system was to harass, surprise,
impose upon the enemy constantly, with forays, reconnaissances, and
stratagems. Except for the unhappy failure of an infantry night attack,
no sensational fights occurred, but a great number of small engagements,
which would repay close study.

The troops employed were of all arms—Infantry, Horse Artillery, regular
Mounted Infantry, Australasian and South African mounted riflemen, and
regular Cavalry. Numbers and composition varied from time to time. The
total force at French’s disposal for active operations rose from about
1,200, mainly Infantry, on November 20, to 2,000, half of them mounted,
in the second week of December, and to 4,500 in the second week of
January, 1900, when all immediate danger to the Colony was at an end,
and he was firmly established in the positions round Colesberg, with his
rear quite secure. This force included four batteries of Artillery, and
no less than 2,000 mounted men (an unusually high proportion), of whom
some 1,200 were regular Cavalry.

The Boers, who were under the very poor leadership of D. Schoemann, were
also progressively reinforced. Their available fighting strength at any
given time is impossible to measure, since it varied from day to day,
and week to week, with the energy or indifference of the burghers. But
it is fairly safe to say that at the outset they outnumbered the British
force by nearly two to one, held a distinct though lessening superiority
for about three weeks—the really critical period of the operations—and
in the second week of January were approximately equal to French’s
forces. At a somewhat later stage they were considerably reinforced.

Because French was a cavalryman, and because more than half the mounted
troops engaged were regular Cavalry, it has often been too lightly
assumed that the Colesberg operations proved the value of the training
peculiar to Cavalry—that is, in the _arme blanche_. Mr. Goldman, for
example, in the course of a contrast between the types of Cavalry and
mounted riflemen, cites these operations as an example of the
“successful use of Cavalry when properly employed.”[19]


Footnote 19:

  “With French in South Africa,” p. 421.


Observe the confusion caused by nomenclature. The _arme blanche_ was not
and could not have been used, though the terrain was perfect for it.[20]
I think I am right in saying that only on one occasion, the fight of
January 3 near Maeder’s farm, was there any question of sabres, even in
pursuit. The 10th Hussars and a squadron of Inniskilling Dragoons, with
two horse batteries, were engaging a force under Piet de Wet, which had
just failed in a surprise attack on an Infantry position. Suddenly the
Boers lost heart, and bolted across the plain; the Cavalry followed in
pursuit, but were checked by the fire of a small party who stopped to
take cover in some rocky ground. By the time these men had been turned
out their comrades were safe. This is a typical illustration of the
weakness of Cavalry in pursuit.


Footnote 20:

  Mr. Goldman complains that, although open, the country contained
  ridges, which provided successive lines of resistance to a retreating
  enemy. He does not see what ridicule he throws on Cavalry by such a
  line of argument.


The Cavalry, like the irregulars, acted throughout as mounted riflemen,
and though, like all the troops engaged, they did well, they would have
done much better if they had carried rifles instead of carbines, and had
spent their professional life in practising rifle-tactics. In the same
way the regular Mounted Infantry would have done better if in peace they
had been regarded, not as a cross between Infantry and Cavalry, but as
fully-fledged mounted troops, capable, with time and the proper
education, of being of as much general practical utility as Cavalry. The
400 New Zealand Mounted Rifles, who formed the majority of the
unprofessional mounted troops engaged, stood from the first on a footing
of equality with the regulars, because they had nothing to unlearn,
though, like everyone else, much to learn.

I must add three remarks upon the Colesberg operations:

1. Unlike the formal actions or battles we have hitherto been
considering, these operations presented a multitude of minor tactical
problems arising from the daily contact of small bodies of troops on a
wide front. In all these small encounters down to those of patrols, the
rifle, not the steel, governed tactics. If only those of our present
Yeomanry officers who are asking for the sword, not so much for shock
action on a big scale as for this very class of small encounters, would
take the trouble to study the work of their own countrymen in such
operations as those around Colesberg, they would, I believe, be
converted to implicit faith in their rifles.

2. The operations, so far from being abnormal, bear a strong resemblance
to the kind of work which, under our present system, Cavalry, unhelped
by Infantry or mounted riflemen, will have to do in any European war,
particularly during the initial stage of mobilization and concentration
for a united advance. During this stage it is the duty of the Cavalry to
form a screen, both protective and aggressive in character. This was
exactly what French, with his composite force, did. Besides assisting to
cover the rear of an existing force—Methuen’s—he was in the position of
covering the front of a hitherto partially mobilized and unconcentrated
army. At first most of the army he was screening was still in England,
his and its primary base. Gradually it collected in force behind him, at
the Cape Peninsula or secondary base, until it swelled into the force
which marched under Roberts to Bloemfontein. That an ocean intervened
between the primary and secondary bases does not affect the analogy. In
the light of the Colesberg operations, how grotesque seems the theory of
the great preliminary shock duel which, according to “Cavalry Training”
and the German theorists, is to be sought by the rival Cavalry screens!

3. The “spirit” which actuated our operations around Colesberg was not
the “Cavalry spirit,” which means essentially the spirit of fighting on
horseback with a steel weapon. It was the spirit which should actuate
all troops, but particularly mounted troops, simply because they possess
horses—the spirit of aggressive mobility, backed by resource, stratagem,
and dash. In French this _spirit_, not only now but throughout the war,
was admirably exemplified, and we can only regret profoundly that it did
not rest on a radical belief in the firearm as distinguished from the
steel weapon, and that the Cavalry he led was not trained upon that

4. That French’s personality as an able and vigorous officer was a
decisive factor in the success of the Colesberg operations is proved by
the narrative of other mounted work at the same period. The best mounted
enterprise done by Methuen’s troops during the long halt at the Modder
was Pilcher’s Sunnyside raid of January 1, 1900, by Queenslanders and
Mounted Infantry. The Cavalry work, both in the reconnaissance of
January 8, and at the Koedoesberg on February 7, was the reverse of

                        THE RELIEF OF KIMBERLEY.

We now approach the principal Cavalry achievements in the South African
War. To explain their origin I must refer to the general military
situation at the beginning of February, 1900. The only substantial
change which had occurred in the Boer dispositions since their successes
of mid-December, 1899, was the gradual reinforcement of the Colesberg
force, which French had been containing, from a strength of 2,000 to
7,000; elsewhere they had stood in an attitude of passive defence.
Cronje had sat in his trenches at Magersfontein facing Methuen at Modder
River. The Stormberg force, facing Gatacre, had been almost inactive,
and behind Cronje the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking had been carried
on with no great vigour. In Natal the siege of Ladysmith had been
maintained with diminished energy and steadily diminishing numbers,
while Louis Botha held the line of the Tugela against the repeated
attacks in ever-increasing strength of Buller’s relieving force. At the
beginning of February the third of these attacks, that by way of Vaal
Krantz, had just failed.

Behind the screen so skilfully maintained by French the new army had
been steadily collected. At the beginning of February it was sufficient
for an advance.

By this time the last opportunity for aggressive Boer strategy on the
grand scale had completely passed away. For general, not merely local
aggression, brain and mobility combined could not have availed to
counteract the numerical superiority which we had now gained, and were
increasing daily. Our strength on paper in South Africa at that moment
(about 130,000 men on a conservative estimate) approximately trebled the
paper strength of the Boers, including their foreign and rebel

Our effective fighting strength—100,000 men and 270 guns—was between
double and treble the effective fighting strength of the Boers at the
same period. Our “effective fighting men” in Cape Colony alone, given by
Roberts in his despatch of February 4 as 51,900 (exclusive, as he said,
of the garrisons of Mafeking and Kimberley and of seven militia
battalions, and evidently exclusive also of all auxiliary non-combatant
units), considerably exceeded the enemy’s entire field-force, reckoned
on a gross, not on a net, basis.[21]


Footnote 21:

  I have tried, as usual, to follow the figures of the “Official
  History,” although for this period they are inadequate. Sometimes the
  considered estimate of the historian is given, sometimes the
  Intelligence estimate on the spot, with or without a warning that it
  was exaggerated, while in the case of particular operations the
  estimate is occasionally altogether omitted. It is not stated how much
  allowance is made for men detached on non-combatant duties, and for
  that leakage from particular commandos of burghers “on leave” which
  was such a grave source of weakness for the enemy.

  On January 10, when Roberts landed, the historian’s estimate of “total
  effective strength of Boers in the field” (vol. i., p. 409) is 46,500,
  thus disposed:

     Joubert in Natal                                       21,000
     Schoemann at Colesberg                                  5,000
     Grobelaar around Stormberg                              4,000
     Cronje at Scholtz Nek                                   8,000
     Ferreira besieging Kimberley                            3,000
     Snyman besieging Mafeking                               2,500
     H. Botha on Rhodesian border                            1,000
     “Reinforcements”                                        2,000

  On February 16 (four days after Roberts began his move) an
  Intelligence estimate (“somewhat exaggerated”) is given to this

  Cronje (including Kimberley force)                   12,000  20 guns
  A. Cronje (detached by Cronje)[22]                    1,300   2 guns
  Near Goemansberg                                        300    1 gun
  Reinforcements (_i.e._, to Cronje) (“uncertain”)      5,000
  Colesberg                                             8,000  10 guns
  Stormberg, etc                                        2,000

  The Natal estimate is omitted, but by reference to the chapters on
  Natal at the same period the total Boer strength there cannot have
  been more than 12,000. Add, therefore, 12,000 + the forces of Snyman
  and H. Botha on January 10, _i.e._, 3,500, and we get

                                                        Total   44,100

Footnote 22:

  These figures are certainly wrong. Andries Cronje’s force should be
  included in the 12,000 credited to Cronje.


But, although it was distinctly our turn for aggressive strategy, the
problem which faced Roberts was one of extreme difficulty. The fall of
any one of the three besieged towns, especially that of Ladysmith, would
have involved a grave loss of prestige, and Ladysmith was hard pressed.
Kimberley, in a far from heroic spirit, was actually threatening
surrender, if not relieved immediately. Roberts had to operate on
exterior lines with a hastily improvised army, deficient in staff
arrangements, transport, commissariat, and, above all, trained and
experienced mounted troops. He rose to the height of a great occasion.

His scheme, briefly, was to leave a skeleton force under Clements in
front of Colesberg; to turn the left flank of the Stormberg commandos
with Brabant’s Corps of 3,000 Cape Colony mounted volunteers; and, with
the bulk of his own army, to march by the western flank on Bloemfontein,
smashing Cronje and relieving Kimberley in one stroke. This stroke, he
was well aware, would automatically lessen the pressure upon Natal.

All the Cavalry in Cape Colony, and, under the original scheme, nearly
all the regular Mounted Infantry, together with Colonial mounted
contingents, were to be formed into a semi-independent unit under French
for the relief of Kimberley.

The preliminary movements were consummated with extraordinary secrecy
and skill. By February 10 an army of 45,000 men and 118 guns[23] had
been collected behind the Modder, of whom 37,000, representing
approximately 30,000 combatant troops, afterwards took part in the
invasion of the Free State.


Footnote 23:

  These and the subsequent figures are taken from Roberts’s despatch of
  February 16. No figures of strength (only of units) are given either
  in the text or appendices of the “Official History.”


The Infantry divisions, including that of Methuen, were four, with a
gross strength of nearly 30,000, and 76 guns. The Cavalry division,
which is our particular concern, with a gross strength of 8,000 men and
42 Horse Artillery guns, was divided into four brigades—three consisting
of regular Cavalry, one consisting of regular Mounted Infantry and
Colonial mounted riflemen. The regular Cavalry brigades contained
altogether seven regiments and portions of two others, a total of about
3,000 sabres. The brigade of mounted riflemen was 2,250 strong.

A word about the force of regular Mounted Infantry, totalling 3,500, now
under Roberts. Most of this force had been raised during the last two
months, and was very raw and crude, a large proportion of the men being
scarcely able to ride, while a few still wore trousers or kilts. The
horses, too, were ill-trained and in bad condition. But the force had at
last been given the outline of a regular organization, and was now
distributed in eight battalions of 450 each, grouped in three divisions,
under Colonels Alderson, Hannay, and Ridley. Roberts had intended all of
these to form part of the independent mounted force, but this plan,
through lack of time, proved not to be feasible. Alderson’s division
alone, 870 strong, went with French, brigaded, as I have shown, with
1,400 Colonials. The rest of the regular Mounted Infantry stayed with
the main army, in company with other volunteer mounted units (City
Imperial Volunteers and Colonials), making up a total mounted reserve
with Roberts of some 3,600 men.

Cronje’s forces, including the men investing Kimberley and a detachment
in the west under Liebenberg, numbered at the utmost 11,000, with 20
guns. Of these 7,500 were under his immediate control. Numerically,
therefore, he was barely a quarter as strong as Roberts, without
counting in the latter’s force (as it should properly be counted) part
at least of the Kimberley garrison. In respect of mounted men, if all
Cronje’s troops, including the Kimberley investing force, had been
mounted, and all available for purely combatant duties, they would have
been barely more than equal, numerically, to the mounted troops under
Roberts—that is to say, to the Cavalry division and the mounted reserve
reckoned together. Or, to put the case in another way, if we set off the
Kimberley garrison against the Boer investing force, the Cavalry
division, with its horse-gunners included, was equal to Cronje’s main
force. Behind the Cavalry division lay the mounted reserve, four
divisions of Infantry, and 76 guns.

In point of fact, Cronje’s main force was not all mounted, much less
well mounted. Sandy soil and burning heat had played havoc among his
horses during the last two months. Not more than a quarter of his
burghers were well enough mounted to perform long and rapid marches;
about half were poorly mounted, and the rest were actually on foot.
Regarded as a whole, moreover, his army was no more mobile than our own.
It was supplied, like ours, through the agency of heavy ox-transport, in
motion slow and cumbrous to the last degree.

I have to insist on these figures and facts because, obviously, they
have a close bearing on our inquiry into the relative merits of the
steel weapon and the firearm. On the whole the Cavalry division, when
the operations began, was approximately as well off in the matter of
horses as Cronje’s force. They were in as good condition, probably, as
the horses of an invading army coming 6,000 miles by sea to a different
hemisphere can expect to be. The division was given a laborious task,
though a strictly normal task, in the shape of a raid. The weather was
very hot, water scarce, and the conditions exceedingly trying. The
horses succumbed in hundreds, mainly from unpreventable causes. But we
have to recognize a preventable cause. We may pass over the vexed
question of overloading. Most contemporary critics seem to have agreed
that the horses of all our mounted troops were overloaded; but the light
load is a counsel of perfection exceedingly difficult to work out in
practice. I refer to faults under the heading of horse management, which
was admittedly not up to the war standard. The defect was common to all
our mounted troops, but in the case of the professionally trained
Cavalry we can trace the indirect influence of the shock theory, which
in time of peace had encouraged artificial manœuvre as opposed to
work under real field conditions. And yet, by perverse reasoning, the
destruction of horse-flesh has been twisted by some writers into a
negative argument for the _arme blanche_. As we shall see, steel weapons
at no period of the war had any combat-value, whatever the condition of
the horses.

It is depressing to reflect that the short raid now proposed under the
trying conditions described was not strategically necessary. Kimberley
stood in no material danger. Roberts, in overwhelming force, only twenty
miles away, and ready to strike at Cronje, would have been justified in
disregarding the demands made by the civil population for immediate
relief. Practically he could scarcely take this course. Facing the
situation boldly and generously, he included the immediate, physical
relief of the town in his scheme of attack on Cronje, asked the Cavalry
Division to perform the task, and was enthusiastically and energetically
obeyed. We must remember, however, that under normal conditions the
situation could scarcely have arisen. Faced by 45,000 men, of whom, guns
apart, a fifth were mounted, Cronje must have raised the siege, and, if
he risked a battle, have concentrated every man for it. Even as it was,
had our large mounted force been not only as mobile but as highly
trained in the rifle as the enemy, it would surely have been used to
secure the envelopment and defeat of Cronje where he stood, in the
Magersfontein position. But it was not so highly trained. That was the
governing factor and the true “abnormality.” Kimberley could be given
immediate relief only by a long, circuitous march which in the end
wrecked the mobility of the division.

The position was this: The Modder separated Cronje from Roberts. Twenty
miles north of the Modder, and behind Cronje, lay Kimberley; but
Cronje’s communications did not lie in this direction. Though the force
investing Kimberley was still supplied by rail from the Transvaal—that
is, from the north—Cronje himself was now based by road on Bloemfontein,
nearly 100 miles to the east—towards his left flank, that is—a
thoroughly false and dangerous strategical position for the Boer leader.
It lay with Roberts to cut this line of communication and envelop
Cronje. North he must have operated, for Cronje might decide at any
moment to cut adrift from Bloemfontein and retire north; but there was
nothing to be gained by operating as far north as Kimberley.

Cronje, stubborn in spirit, but slow in thought and action, and, on this
occasion, badly served by his scouts, was thoroughly mystified by the
secrecy and suddenness of his enemy’s stroke. Until the last moment he
clung to the belief that he was to be attacked in the Magersfontein
trenches, which he had defended so successfully two months earlier. When
threatening symptoms appeared to his left front, he did his best to
watch this quarter by despatching successively three small bodies of his
best-mounted burghers, under A. Cronje, Lubbe, and Christian de Wet,
some 1,200 in all; but he made no effort to set in motion his partly
dismounted main force of about 6,000 men, with its unwieldy laager.

Ramdam, twenty miles south of the Modder, and forty miles by air-line
from Kimberley, was the British point of concentration. French and the
Cavalry division left this point for the north early on February 12,
with the main army slowly following, less Methuen’s division, which
remained to confront Cronje. Two days’ march brought French to the
Modder, with his troops and gun-horses already much spent. According to
the “Official History,” forty horses were dead and 326 unfit to march.
There had been barely more than a show of opposition at the crossing of
the Riet and the Modder. De Wet, if he had chosen, might have done more
to delay the advance with the 800 men whom at one moment he had under
his hand, but he was daunted by the imposing array of horsemen and guns,
and left Lubbe with only 250 men to dispute the passage of the Modder.
He himself hung on the rear of the grand army, where he soon found his
opportunity for a formidable stroke.

From the Modder at Klip Drift to Kimberley is twenty miles. Cronje,
though he did not yet suspect French’s objective, was beginning to be
alarmed, and now detached another 800 men and 2 guns, under Froneman and
De Beer, who were joined by 100 men under Lubbe, to oppose him. French,
on the morning of the 15th, after a day’s rest, swept this little force
aside by one abrupt and vigorous stroke, which has become famous as the
“Klip Drift Charge.” A mountain of error has been heaped upon this
event. Let us examine the circumstances.

French, on the night of the 14th, had been joined, thanks to some
splendid forced marching, by the sixth Infantry division and by most of
Hannay’s brigade of Mounted Infantry—that is to say, by about 6,000
Infantry, 20 guns, and 1,500 mounted men—a force in itself numerically
superior to the whole of the main body now remaining with Cronje. With
the Cavalry division added there were now at Klip Drift some 13,000 men
and sixty-two guns. Cronje’s communications with the east were
definitely severed, the point of severance was held in force, and French
was free for his independent spring on Kimberley. As it happened, Cronje
on the same afternoon, dimly alarmed, had moved his headquarters and
main laager a little east, so that it actually lay only six and a half
miles west of Klip Drift, though the Cavalry, in spite of a day’s rest,
were too tired for the reconnaissance necessary to discover this fact.
If the fact had been discovered, it would have shed a curious light on
the proposal to relieve Kimberley.

However, the immediate problem was to open the road for French to that
town. Nine hundred Boers (with 100 of Lubbe’s men reckoned in) and two
guns faced the large force at Klip Drift. They were disposed in an arc,
concave from the British point of view, occupying two converging ridges,
between which ran an expanse of open ground about a mile in width at the
narrowest point, and gently rising to a “Nek.” Both valley and Nek were
good galloping ground, without wire or obstacles of any kind. Very few
Boers were on the Nek—perhaps a hundred; the majority were on the two
ridges. Instead of clearing them out in the manner usual at this period,
by a slow preliminary assault, French resolved to rush his whole
division through the valley and over the Nek, under cover of Artillery

It was a sensible resolve, promptly made and admirably executed. At the
moment when French formed it he was about a mile distant from the Modder
and about two miles from the Nek. His division, in column of brigade
masses, had been checked by the fire of the two Boer guns posted on the
western or left-hand ridge, about 3,000 yards away, and by rifle-fire
from the nearest part of the eastern ridge, about 1,500 yards away. All
seven batteries of Horse Artillery, supported by two batteries of the
Infantry division and two naval guns—fifty-six guns in all—had opened on
the two ridges and the devoted pair of Boer guns, and had temporary
silenced the latter. It was now that French ordered the charge, and
while it lasted, all but two horse batteries, which were kept in
reserve, continued to bombard the Boer positions. Gordon’s brigade, less
two squadrons, which were engaged on the flanks, led the way, deployed
in extended order—eight yards between files, twenty yards between front
and rear rank—pace, fourteen miles an hour. Broadwood’s brigade came
next, 800 yards behind, and the other two brigades (one of Cavalry, the
other of mounted riflemen) followed, though exactly at what interval and
in what formation we are not told precisely. But I think we may assume
that the fully deployed charge was made only by Gordon’s brigade, and
that, at any rate, this was enough to secure the object in view.[24]


Footnote 24:

  The _Times_ History describes Broadwood’s brigade as galloping after
  Gordon’s, half a mile behind. The German critic, who appears to have
  been an eyewitness, speaks of 6,000 horsemen charging as though in one
  body. I base my account on our own “Official History.”


It must be clearly understood that the objective of the charge was the
lightly-held Nek, to reach which the division had to run the gauntlet of
the flank fire from the two converging ridges. All went well. As the
official account says: “The squadrons of the leading brigade came at
once under a shower of bullets, both from front and flanks, yet few
fell. The extended formation, the pace of the charge, and thick clouds
of dust, puzzled the burghers, while the supporting fire of the
batteries shook their aim.” The Nek was reached and won, the burghers
who held it fled, only a few remaining to “be struck down or made
prisoners.” (The _Times_ History says about a score were “speared or
made prisoners.”) Their comrades on the flank ridges appear to have
ridden off before the charge was well over. With only fifteen
casualties, the whole division and its seven horse batteries passed the
danger-point, and went on that same day to Kimberley. Ferreira and the
investing force beat an immediate retreat, and the town was relieved.

Such was the charge at Klip Drift. What can we learn from it? In the
first place, let us try to grasp the realities that lie behind
conventional phraseology. The movement was not a “charge” in the
commonest sense of the word, as applied either to Cavalry, Infantry, or
any other troops. Though offensive in character, it was not even in
absolute strictness an attack; for upon the Nek, which was the objective
of the movement, there was nothing worth the attack of a division. Least
of all, as the _Times_ History truly points out, was it a “Cavalry
charge” in the sense of a shock charge with the steel weapon, for there
was nothing substantial upon which to exert shock. This was perfectly
realized by French, who was intentionally taking the line of least
resistance, in accordance with his primary object, which was to get to
Kimberley, not to defeat these Boers. With that end in view, he ran the
gauntlet of fire, pierced the Boer line, and proceeded. There was no
possibility or intention of producing shock, for the leading brigade
charged with files eight yards apart, a formation which excludes
anything approaching shock. Nor had the result anything to do with the
steel weapon: necessarily not, for shock is the only real _raison
d’être_ of the steel weapon. The threat of any weapon would have served
to drive the handful of Boers from the Nek in the face of such a deluge
of horsemen. Their actual losses were as insignificant as our own. There
was no pursuit of any part of the Boer force, for, as the Official
Historian dryly remarks, “The British troopers, riding _seventeen
stone_, and mounted on weak and blown horses, had no chance of catching
an enemy riding _fourteen stone_ on fresh animals.” That should surely
give cause for reflection. This was only the fourth day out from Ramdam:
it had been preceded by a day’s rest, and this was the first operation
of the morning. Difficulties apart, in order to have converted the
movement into such an attack as would have constituted a test of
weapons, it would have been necessary for French either to pursue as
best he could, or to use the position gained in order to turn upon
Cronje’s main laager, which now lay defenceless only six miles to his
rear, or even upon the rear of Cronje’s combatant force at
Magersfontein. But, even if he had known that Cronje’s transport was so
near, his orders were explicit—to relieve Kimberley instantly. By an
ironical coincidence, at this very moment De Wet was raiding the main
army’s transport at Waterval.

The direct result of neglecting the Boers who were driven away from Klip
Drift was that a number of them returned shortly after the repulse, and
took up an entrenched position north of the sixth division, where they
curtailed the reconnaissances of our Mounted Infantry, and enabled
Cronje’s main force to march across our front during a bright moonlight

As far as weapons are concerned, the whole interest of the day centres
in the rifle—the Boer rifle. For the first time in the war a large body
of our mounted troops had deliberately entered and penetrated a
fire-zone on horseback. That was the new fact. How had they done it?
What were the conditions? What light is thrown on the age-old physical
problem of vulnerability and mobility as modified by the modern magazine
rifle? These are the questions of really serious interest to students of
mounted action. It must be admitted that Klip Drift by itself does not
afford much foundation for argument. With every Boer rifle on the field
reckoned as an effective factor, the disparity in the size of the forces
engaged was so abnormal as to preclude far-reaching conclusions. Of
course, every Boer rifle on the field was not effective. All the 900
burghers present cannot have been in the immediate firing-line, and the
firing-line by no means wholly commanded the masses of moving horsemen.
Unfortunately, none of the accounts are precise on these important
points—volume of fire and range. One can make only rough inferences from
a comparison of narratives and maps.

The official map represents the enemy’s arc-shaped firing-line as
covering five miles of ground. The _Times_ History makes it nearer
seven; while the German Official Historian calls it two and a half. At
any rate, it was a very thin, widely extended skirmishing-line, a part
of which must have been out of range of the charge. I should imagine
that half of the men on the western or left-hand ridge, which ran at
right angles to the line of our advance, could not have fired an
effective shot at the Cavalry. With the eastern or right-hand ridge it
was different. This was the more strongly held, and ran parallel to the
line of our advance; but here, too, the average range must have been
great, for the Boers (as on the western ridge) lined the summit, not the
slopes, and (according to the official map) only the northerly half of
the ridge directly overlooked the narrow part of the valley, or, rather,
the exit from the amphitheatre. What was the width of this valley or
amphitheatre? Again we are left in doubt. The contours of the official
map represent it roughly as diminishing from three miles to one and a
half; the narrative says that the Nek—that is, the narrowest point—was
from 1,200 to 1,500 yards broad. No estimate is anywhere given of the
average range and volume of the flank fire from the two converging
ridges. One thing only is certain, that the direct frontal fire—that is,
from the Nek—was insignificant. So few were the Boers at this point that
the official map does not mark them at all.

Out of these scanty and conflicting data we may perhaps conclude that,
allowing for the frontal extension of the Cavalry and for the position
of the Boers on the summits of the ridges, the range was at no point
less than 1,100 yards, and averaged about 1,300 from first to last,
while the number of rifles brought into more or less effective play for
a few minutes may be conjectured at 500 or 600. The ranges were long,
therefore, and the rifles few, in consideration of the short time
allowed for their use.

The next point to discover is: What were the physical and moral
conditions under which the Boer fire was delivered? Let us note three
main circumstances, all normal in character, but—in two cases, at any
rate—abnormal in degree.

1. _Artillery Fire._—Bombardment by fifty-six guns, although it appears
to have caused little or no loss to the Boer riflemen, must have
rendered accurate and steady shooting almost impossible. The German
historian quotes a Boer present as saying that “the fire from the
English guns was such that we were scarcely able to shoot at all at the
advancing Cavalry.”

2. _Dust._—This may be regarded as a normal circumstance, rightly to be
counted on by any leader of horse who plans a mounted movement under
fire. In later stages of the war the Boers used to fire the grass for a
similar purpose.

3. _Surprise._—This, everywhere and always, is the soul of offensive
mounted action. It baulks the aim and daunts the spirit of the defence.
French, by sure and rapid insight, obtained a tactical surprise here,
and gained his object. But surprise by an approximately equal force is
one thing, and surprise supported by the numbers at French’s command
another. Most of the Boers present seem to have taken to their horses
precipitately before the charge was over—and no wonder! The first
brigade was backed by three others; these were backed by a division of
Infantry and guns and a quantity of Mounted Infantry. Of the presence of
this large force the Boers were perfectly aware. In giving way before
the charge, they can scarcely be convicted of the “demoralization” with
which some writers charge them.

At Klip Drift, then, the conditions were abnormally favourable to the
offence, and when we are seeking evidence concerning the effect of
modern rifle-fire upon mounted troops in rapid movement, we must be
careful to have these conditions in mind. Still, the facts are there, to
be noted: complete success of the horsemen, practically no loss. If Klip
Drift stood alone, we should at least be justified in assuming that,
under certain circumstances, a large body of troops on horseback, boldly
and skilfully led, could face rifle-fire with impunity. But Klip Drift
does not stand alone. It is only one—and by no means the most
interesting—of a great number of episodes illustrating the same problem,
and proving that, under far less favourable conditions—whether of
numbers, ground, dust, or surprise, and without support from
Artillery—mounted men not only can pass a fire-zone unscathed, but make
genuine destructive assaults upon riflemen and guns. But—and upon this
reservation hangs the whole thesis I am upholding—the mounted men who do
these things must be mounted riflemen, trained to rely on rifle and
horse combined, and purged of all leanings towards shock. Otherwise they
will not get their opportunities, or, if they accidentally get them,
will not be able to use them.

This revolution in mounted tactics was not to come from the Cavalry. It
should have come from them. With the exception of our raw Mounted
Infantry, the Boer Police, and the small permanent corps maintained by
the South African Colonies, they were the only professional mounted
troops in the field of war. In them alone lay the tradition of the
mounted charge in any shape or form. They alone had, in fact, put the
mounted charge into practice. Theories apart, they alone were endowed by
years of training with the drill and discipline requisite for that
orderly deployment and swift united movement which were exhibited at
Klip Drift, and which are the essential characteristics of any charge,
under fire or not under fire, by whomsoever made, with whatsoever
weapon, and for whatsoever purpose. Unique as the conditions were at
Klip Drift, it seems strange that the true lesson did not enter the
minds of French and the other Cavalry officers present. They cannot have
imagined that shock had anything to do with success. The widely extended
formation deliberately adopted was not peculiar to Cavalry, nor was
speed peculiar to Cavalry: both were the natural attributes of all
mounted troops. They must have realized, one would have thought, that
the rifle was dominating the battle-field, causing those extended
formations on both sides, preventing shock, and—because it was united
with the horse—enabling the enemy to get away, alarmed, but without
pursuit or appreciable loss, and ready to return shortly afterwards and
to put up a good fight on the following day, again against superior

The bewildering paradox is that at bottom they did realize these things,
though they did not reach the point of drawing the logical inference.
Otherwise it is impossible to explain either Cavalry action up to this
point or the general impression prevalent at the time of this charge,
that it was an extraordinarily perilous and daring performance. Why
perilous and daring if the Cavalry, with their steel weapon, are
superior to mounted riflemen? If these Boer mounted riflemen had been
represented by an equal or even a much greater number of Continental
Cavalry, armed with short carbines like our own Cavalry, and relying
mainly on the sword, would the performance have been then considered
extraordinarily perilous and daring?

Questions of this sort ought, I submit, to expose to any unprejudiced
mind the fallacies underlying the _arme blanche_ theory. But what does
the old school say? Let us turn to the German official critic’s remarks
on Klip Drift, remembering the praise which has been showered upon his
work, and that it is Germany which, even at this hour, inspires our
Cavalry ideas. I quote the paragraph in full, as an example of the
workings of the Cavalry mind and of its blindness to realities:

“This charge of French’s Cavalry division was one of the most remarkable
phenomena of the war; it was the first and last occasion during the
entire campaign that Infantry was attacked by so large a body of
Cavalry, and its staggering success shows that, in future wars, the
charge of great masses of Cavalry will be by no means a hopeless
undertaking, even against troops armed with modern rifles, although it
must not be forgotten that there is a difference between charging strong
Infantry in front and breaking through small and isolated groups of


Footnote 25:

  German Official Account of the South African War, vol. i., p. 147.


It will be seen that the writer’s method of evading the true moral is to
call the Boers “Infantry.” In other words, he shuts his eyes to the
whole point at issue. The Boers were not Infantry. They were mounted
riflemen corresponding to German Cavalry, but with many added functions,
and possessing the offensive and defensive power of Infantry. They had
reached the field on horses—it might well have been that they could not
have reached it in time without horses—they were acting in defence,
dismounted, against crushing odds; but their horses were not far behind
them, available for retreat, vulnerable also to attack. They left the
field safely on these horses, and a number of them soon returned on
these same horses to fulfil the vitally important function of masking
the flank march of their own main body. Meanwhile, few as they were,
they had compelled the Cavalry to conform to conditions imposed by the
rifle and to take the line of least, not of most, resistance. If they
had been German Cavalry of that date, trained primarily for shock, with
poor firearms and little practice in skirmishing, they would not, in the
first place, have had the confidence to take up the extended position
which these men took up, unsupported and facing an army. And if they had
taken it up, they could not possibly have rendered even a direct frontal
attack, however conducted, in any degree dangerous except to Cavalry of
exactly their own stamp. If, on the other hand, they had been Infantry,
nothing but a miracle could have saved them from complete destruction
without any charging at all. The most indifferent operations on their
rear and flanks, either by our Cavalry or Mounted Infantry or Colonials,
would have sufficed to pin them to their ground, while the Infantry, six
times their strength, disposed of them. But, of course, the whole
supposition is visionary. If they had been Infantry, they would not have
been there at all.

In any case, had they been either Infantry or Cavalry, no critic would
permit himself to speak of the “staggering success” of the day’s
operations. But what becomes of sanity when that unfashionable type, the
mounted rifleman, is in question, particularly if he is an “irregular”?
Let the reader only take the trouble to substitute the words “mounted
riflemen” for the word “Infantry” wherever it occurs in the German
paragraph, and note the disastrous effect upon the Cavalry theories of
the writer. It is like finding the key-word to a cipher.

But I may be misleading the reader by taking advantage of the German
writer’s unconsciously ambiguous use of the word “Cavalry.” To him, as
to all Germans, that word means mounted troops whose distinguishing
feature is a steel weapon and the capacity for shock. As I have already
explained, French’s troops were not acting as “Cavalry” in this sense.
If they had been, there might be some ground for the tameness and
caution of the German inference—namely, that in future wars such charges
will be “by no means a hopeless undertaking”; an inference further
qualified by the remark (perfectly true) that this was only a case of
“breaking through small and isolated groups of skirmishers,” by a whole
division, be it remembered. Surely a most damaging admission for an
upholder of shock! We may wonder what the critic would have thought if
he had stopped to the end of the war, and had seen the situation at Klip
Drift reversed—800 Boers making a direct frontal charge upon three
thousand stationary troops and several batteries of guns, and coming
within measurable distance of success.

Such is Cavalry comment on Cavalry action. It is typical and
authoritative, or I should not spend so much space on it. Mr.
Goldman[26] speaks of the “madness” of the charge “according to all
military rules,” of the “climax of daring” which prompted it, and of the
justification it gave to “the advocates of bold _Cavalry_ action.” Note
the implied syllogism: Cavalry carry the _arme blanche_; this was a
successful charge by Cavalry; therefore the _arme blanche_ is justified.
This is not to misinterpret Mr. Goldman, for in a special appendix
devoted to proving the superiority of Cavalry over mounted riflemen, and
under the heading “Shock Action,” he expressly instances this charge as
testimony. The “Official History” is scarcely less misleading.[27]
Without any instructional analysis of the physical and moral factors, it
describes the charge as the most “brilliant stroke of the whole war.”
Such indiscriminating extravagance of praise does a world of harm. The
critic, in his hazy enthusiasm, mixes up two distinct aspects of the
attack—its strategical and its tactical aspects. On the assumption, upon
which French acted and was compelled to act, that Kimberley needed
relief, and that it was worth while to wreck the Cavalry horses and
neglect Cronje’s main force in order to effect this relief, he may truly
be said to have carried out his strategical task brilliantly, even with
allowance for the numbers under his control and for the co-operation of
the Infantry. Tactically, too, upon the same assumption, he did the
right thing promptly and well, and deserves all the higher credit
because he was a pioneer in the experiment of subjecting horses to
modern rifle-fire. But in a serious history uncoloured by the emotions
of the day, to call the charge, regarded as a tactical feat, the most
brilliant stroke in the war is an abuse of language which would not be
tolerated for an instant if any other class of troops but Cavalry were
in question. Judged by a reasonable standard of risks, numbers, and
achievements, either set of combatants in any one of the bloody and
stubborn fights at this date just beginning in Natal for the final
relief of Ladysmith deserved more praise. Among mounted operations the
attack at Bothaville (October, 1900), many other British attacks, and
many Boer attacks, were more admirable.


Footnote 26:

  “With French in South Africa,” pp. 83, 84, and Appendix A., p. 411.

Footnote 27:

  Vol. ii., p. 36.


What must follow logically from such exaggerated laudation? That it
takes a division of Cavalry to pierce merely—not to roll up or shatter—a
thin skirmishing line, and even then it is a brilliant feat. What, then,
of future wars—Continental wars? At Klip Drift we can scarcely
dissociate the leading brigade from the three following brigades.
Practically the whole division was acting as a unit for one purpose. In
the whole of the Crimean, Franco-Prussian, and Austro-Prussian Wars of
the last century, there is not, so far as I am aware, a single instance
of a division of Cavalry charging as one homogeneous unit. Rare were the
charges of more than one regiment; rarer still those of more than one
brigade.[28] In these wars large armies, approximately equal, were
arrayed against one another. And the method was shock—exerted upon
substantial bodies of men—true physical shock, for which mass cannot be
too dense or coherence too close. Even if we cling to shock, and
persuade ourselves that Klip Drift was an example of it, where are our


Footnote 28:

  See Henderson’s “Science of War,” pp. 53, 54.


What, we may ask lastly, is the explanation of all this confused
reasoning, and the strange conclusions to which it leads? Nothing but
the fascination of the _arme blanche_. While giving unstinted admiration
to the brave men who faced unknown dangers so steadily and resolutely in
this ride at Klip Drift, we must look here for the comparative failure
of their branch of the service during the war. They had felt what the
training-book calls the “magnetism of the charge,” the exhilaration of
swift, victorious onset under fire—sensations which they had always been
taught to associate solely with the steel weapon and solely with the arm
of the service to which they were proud to belong—the Cavalry. The old
tradition, somewhat shaken by months of bickering with firearms and for
the most part on foot, seemed at last to have been triumphantly
justified. It was an error. They mistook both the causes and the extent
of the triumph, and remained in the old groove of thought, which this
charge, properly construed, should have taught them to discard. In
reality the best part of their tradition lived in all its pristine
splendour; the rest was obsolete. Clinging to the obsolete, they missed
the vital part.

From this time onwards they were to do much hard and good work, not, in
the Cavalry sense, as Cavalry, save on a few insignificant occasions,
but as mounted carbineers, and, in the last phase, as fully developed
mounted riflemen. But their hearts were never wholly in it. There were
_arrières-pensées_; vain longings for situations which obstinately
refused to recur; a tendency to throw the blame on the horses, on the
higher command, on anything but their own inability to read the signs of
the times and vitalize their own traditions by recognizing the
uselessness of the steel weapon and the predominance of the rifle.

                              CHAPTER VII
                      PAARDEBERG AND POPLAR GROVE

                        FEBRUARY TO MARCH, 1900.

                      I.—KIMBERLEY TO PAARDEBERG.

The true factors of success in mounted warfare received the most
convincing illustration in the events immediately following the relief
of Kimberley.

The baneful influence of this town continued to react on British
strategy. French, in an ardent mood, and with some justification from
his original orders, resolved to pursue the investing commandos north
with three brigades, two of Cavalry, one of Mounted Infantry and
Colonials, and some of the Kimberley mounted troops, altogether
something over 4,000 men and five batteries. Ferreira, with most of the
Free Staters, had retreated east the night before, and was wholly out of
reach. There remained on the route due north, and with eleven miles
start, from 1,500 to 2,000 burghers under the Transvaaler, Du Toit, and
a heavy convoy. It soon became evident that, in the weak condition of
French’s horses, the capture of this convoy was the only feasible
object, and to this object French eventually confined himself. But an
extraordinary hitch arose. One small body of 150[29] Griqualand West
rebels, with one gun, instead of evacuating the lines of investment
during the night, had quietly remained at its post on the Dronfield
ridge, seven miles north of Kimberley, and now acted as a sort of
improvised rear-guard. One of the Cavalry brigades, about 1,200 strong,
with three batteries, in the course of a sweep north-west in order to
envelop the convoy from that side, stumbled upon the Griqualand men, and
wasted several hours in a vain endeavour to dislodge them by
fire-action. The delay destroyed whatever chance there had been of
succeeding against Du Toit, and the Brigadier was blamed for the delay.
But what followed? On his way back to Kimberley French attacked the
Lilliputian force, now separated by nine or ten miles from its nearest
supports, with all three brigades, several hundred Kimberley mounted
troops, and all five batteries. Still no result. French gave it up, and
under cover of a dust-storm the Griqualanders rode away safely,
abandoning their gun and some killed and wounded.


Footnote 29:

  _Times_ History gives “150–200”; “Official History,” “200”; German
  History, “100.”


This incident occurred on the day after the charge at Klip Drift, and it
shows how completely the real significance of that episode had been lost
upon the Cavalry. At Klip Drift there was no chance of testing weapons;
it was a case of riding through fire for an ulterior end. Here was a
real chance of testing the value of weapons. Where was the steel? Where,
more pregnant question still, was the horse? What is the tactical
purpose of a horse in attack if not to accelerate aggression and
precipitate a crisis, using mobility to overcome vulnerability? The
Boers, it is true, were entrenched, but from what we know now of the
physical factors in mounted attacks we can say with tolerable certainty
that even the single brigade in the morning, properly disposed and
extended, might have ridden, even at a moderate canter, into close
quarters with the enemy with less loss than that involved in a lengthy
dismounted attack. In the evening, with exhausted horses, but with a
thirty-to-one superiority in men and guns, the smallest exertion of
aggressive mobility would have made an end of the impertinent handful on
the ridge. Now, the Cavalry were as brave soldiers as ever stepped. What
they lacked was imagination to connect together the horse and the
firearm as joint constituents of aggressive mobility, a defect
aggravated by the possession of an inferior firearm, and by inexperience
in the use of it. The crack of a rifle transformed the action into what
their training-book called a “dismounted” action, and converted them
into indifferent Infantry. At whose compulsion? That of a few mounted
riflemen, acting in defence, dismounted, virtually as a rear-guard for
the main Boer force; but with their horses at hand, available for
escape, counted upon for escape (for otherwise their owners would not
have been there), and eventually used for escape.

Dronfield was an extreme case, and I do not wish to use it further than
as a peg on which to hang an argument. With infinite variation of
circumstance, the same root principles applied in every action of the
war. Let me make one more point clear before leaving the episode, and
passing to another equally interesting and far more creditable to the
Cavalry. When I suggest a more rapid mounted advance, I do not, of
course, mean that the horsemen should remain on horseback up to, during
and after contact. That was the old Cavalry view, based on the use of a
steel weapon, and its strength accounts for the extraordinary reluctance
of the Cavalry to contemplate any other form of aggressive mobility.
They could never get shock, because their adversaries willed otherwise,
and could always impose their will; without shock they themselves were
rightly conscious that a man on horseback with a sword or lance is not,
except under very rare conditions, a match for a man on foot with a
magazine rifle. But why, save for a valueless shibboleth, remain
persistently on horseback? At Dronfield, though the maps and narratives
do not warrant the supposition, the summit of the ridge may, for all I
know, have been unsuitable for rapid movement on a horse. But, as I
pointed out in Chapter II., physical contact is not necessary for a
charge by mounted riflemen. A charge is just as much a charge—in the
sense of a killing, winning advance—if its mounted phase ends within
point-blank, or even within “decisive” range of the enemy. Each and
every acceleration in the net rapidity of the whole movement makes it
nearer to being worthy of the name of charge. Finally, if actual contact
is both practicable and desirable, if the horsemen can ride right home,
they _must_ dismount when they get there. If they do not, they will lose
two-thirds of their killing power. Their horses for the moment will be
vulnerable encumbrances, but the men are better off dismounted than
mounted, because they can use their rifles. I am premature now in
discussing this point, but have thought it best to sketch the idea in
advance. Illustration will come later.

To continue. That same evening (February 16, 1900) French received
written orders from Roberts to march thirty miles to Koodoos Drift and
cut off Cronje’s retreat.

On the night of the 15th the old Boer General, alarmed by the news of
Klip Drift, had at last awakened to the fact that his 5,500 men and his
cumbrous laager were on the point of being surrounded by an army of
between 30,000 and 40,000 men. Resolving to retire along the Modder
towards Bloemfontein, he called up his men from the Magersfontein
trenches, and trekked in bright moonlight across the front of the sixth
division at Klip Drift without being discovered by the Mounted Infantry.
On the 16th, while French was riding north from Kimberley, Cronje held
the sixth division at bay, and secured his next strategic point east,
the passage of the Modder at Drieputs Drift. In the action of this day
we may note that the Mounted Infantry tried to do what the Cavalry had
done so successfully at Klip Drift—to ride in force through a fire-zone
in order to pierce the enemy’s line. Through no fault of their own, but
simply through lack of that drill and horsemanship which the Cavalry
possessed, they failed badly, and were thrown into great disorder. After
dusk, again unobserved, Cronje continued his retreat, and at 4.30 a.m.
on the 17th his main body and convoy were halted within a few miles of
Vendutie Drift, with an advance-guard as far east as Koodoos Drift.

It was at this moment that French, in accordance with orders, was
leaving Kimberley to head off Cronje. His division as a fighting unit
had practically ceased to exist. Horses had died in hundreds; whole
regiments were demobilized. Of the three brigades engaged in the
northward sweep from Kimberley, only one regiment—the Carabineers—was
fit to march. This and Broadwood’s brigade, which had not been engaged,
gave French 1,500 men and 12 guns. Ardent as ever, notwithstanding, he
started off, and in six hours reached Vendutie Drift in time to head off
Cronje. Midway he had passed within two or three miles of Ferreira’s
force, about his equal in strength. Ferreira, though he appears to have
been but dimly aware of the course of events, should undoubtedly have
thrown himself across the path of the Cavalry. He missed the
opportunity, and French rode on.

The mission of the Cavalry was to hold Cronje until the main army should
come up and attack his rear. They performed this mission with skill,
tenacity, and complete success, using fire-tactics and bluff to impose
upon a force nearly four times their superior. Once more, in short, they
were doing what they and the Colonials had done so well in the Colesberg
operations two months earlier. Tactically, they stood in much the same
position as the 900 Boers at Klip Drift, and if Cronje had come to the
point even of contemplating the abandonment of his transport and
dismounted burghers, he would have had, theoretically, the opportunity
of bursting through the British containing line and making his point on
Bloemfontein, just as French had burst through the Boer line and gained
Kimberley. Knowing what we know now, we can see that this was what
Cronje should have done or tried to do, though we can understand why he
still declined to take this sort of action. His was not an independent
mounted force, backed by an army. Not only in his instinctive
perception, but in fact, it was an army in itself, the reverse of
mobile, badly horsed, but, on the other hand, supported by small
outlying detachments (under Ferreira, De Wet, etc.), from whom he
expected vigorous co-operation. His transport represented not only
public commissariat, but the private property of his burghers. Meanwhile
his men carried the same rifles which had wrought such terrible havoc at
Magersfontein. Slow-witted as he was, we must make allowance for this
point of view throughout the operations of which the climax was now
approaching, and indeed throughout the whole war. It was a standing
weakness of the Boer organization that their transport was as ponderous
as their fighting men were mobile. The ox governed net speed, not the

These considerations do not detract in any way from the credit due to
French and the Cavalry for their ride from Kimberley to the Drifts, and
for pinning Cronje to his ground at this critical moment. During the
night two Infantry divisions and the Mounted Infantry division, by dint
of severe forced marching, were placed within striking distance of
Cronje’s laager at Paardeberg. Then came the battle, the week’s
investment, the surrender.

Unquestionably this day—February 17, 1900—was the great day of the
Cavalry in the South African War. But, alas for the tyranny of names!
Here is the Official Historian’s comment: “Yet that night was a
memorable one for French’s troops; for they had accomplished the mission
assigned to them by Lord Roberts, and had demonstrated that the
conditions of modern fighting still permit Cavalry and Horse Artillery
to play a rôle of supreme importance in war.” Here is what I may call
the inverted moral over again. “Still permit!” What a pitifully cautious
conclusion! Is it for that that we maintain enormously expensive mounted
corps and entrust them with vitally important duties?

The real truth is that it was _in spite_ of being “Cavalry,” not
_because_ they were “Cavalry,” that French’s troops had succeeded in the
mission assigned to them by Roberts. Throughout the operations the
characteristics, inborn or acquired, which distinguished them from
mounted riflemen, had been their bane, not their blessing. Their steel
weapons had been so much dead weight, their carbines poor substitutes
for rifles, while faulty horsemastership, which we cannot dissociate
from the artificialities of their peace training, is admitted to have
been one of the causes of the appalling mortality in horses. French, as
a spirited leader of horsemen, not as a leader of steel-armed,
shock-trained horsemen, by pure force of will had overcome these
obstacles and performed his allotted rôle. But without these obstacles,
and leading a division of highly-trained mounted riflemen, what might he
have done? Unquestionably, his powerful division would have been
employed at the outset to aid in crushing by normal tactical means
Cronje’s small force where it originally stood. But, apart from that
fundamental difference, he might probably have dispensed with men
numerous enough and efficient enough to act as eyes for the main army, a
function which was in complete abeyance during these operations, with
disastrous results at Waterval Drift, where De Wet raided a supply
column. He might, perhaps, in the course of his independent rôle, have
ridden at, instead of through, the Boers at Klip Drift, with far more
demoralizing after-effects upon the enemy. He might have discovered and
snapped up in his stride, as it were, Cronje’s defenceless laager, then
lying so near to him, and still have obeyed his orders to reach
Kimberley that night. He might, perhaps, have converted the northerly
sweep from Kimberley into a fruitful operation, by eliminating the
absurd delay occasioned by the Dronfield detachment. Probably he would
have reached the Drifts with a larger and fresher force, able to regard
what had been achieved rather as a prelude to still greater things than
as the climax of a supreme effort. Climax, in fact, it was. When
Roberts, a week later, called upon the Cavalry for another divisional
enterprise, French was unable to respond. This sort of thing will not do
in any future war; let us be clear about that. We cannot afford to use
up Cavalry at this exorbitant rate. They are far too few and valuable,
and will have far more varied and difficult duties to perform than
French’s division performed.

There is no need, for our purpose, to describe the battle of Paardeberg
at any length, or to enter deeply into the controversy which has raged
around the question of storming versus investment. Time, I think, will
confirm the view expressed in the _Times_ and German Histories that
Kitchener, in spite of his ambiguous personal position on the
battle-field of the 18th, and in spite of his faulty and disjointed
tactical methods, was right in his endeavour to storm the laager at all
costs there and then, and that he should have received more
whole-hearted co-operation from the subordinate commanders. Time,
perhaps, may have already convinced Lord Roberts that the subsequent
policy of investment, with its far-reaching moral and material
consequences, was a mistake. But however this may be, the outstanding
technical lesson is the same—the extraordinary power possessed by
mounted riflemen, trained to entrench and shoot straight, even when they
have lost their mobility, even when they suffer from flagrant defects of
organization, morale, and discipline, in holding at bay vastly superior
regular forces of all arms.

Directly Cronje accepted envelopment, his force lost its last
resemblance to a mounted force. He was assailed mainly by Infantry and
Artillery. But two incidents, which have a strong mounted interest, if
the expression is permissible, deserve brief notice.

1. The pathetic little charge of Hannay and fifty or sixty of his
Mounted Infantry towards the end of the day. Kitchener, burning to get
into the laager in spite of many a bloody repulse, realizing that an
irruption even at one point in the front of two and a half miles would
lead to the collapse of the defence, and that such an irruption was
beyond the power of the slow-moving Infantry under the deadly Boer fire,
sent the following message to Hannay at 3.30 p.m.:

  “The time has now come for a final effort. All troops have been warned
  that the laager must be rushed at all costs. Try and carry
  Stephenson’s brigade on with you. But if they cannot go, the Mounted
  Infantry should do it. Gallop up, if necessary, and fire into the

In the existing state of affairs it is difficult to defend the terms of
this message. All the troops had not been warned. There was no proper
provision for a supreme concerted assault. Stephenson, who was Hannay’s
senior, received no message till much later. The Mounted Infantry were
much scattered, and the spirit of breathless urgency conveyed by the
message was inconsistent with the delay involved in co-ordinating their
efforts with those of Stephenson’s brigade, which was two miles from
Hannay on the opposite side of the Modder.

Hannay’s mood at the moment was one of despairing exasperation, after
several previous failures to act up to what he considered the
unreasonable expectations of his Chief. He now sent some hasty messages
to outlying detachments of Mounted Infantry, and without wasting another
moment, collected fifty or sixty of the men with him, and, longing for
death, rode straight for the laager. He and many others were shot down,
and the little charge flickered out, though a few men actually got into
the laager. Nevertheless, even this tiny mounted effort had
disproportionately great results, for under its cover the main
firing-line dashed forward, and a part reached a good position within
350 yards of the Boer rifles. From this we can judge of the effects
which might have attended a coherent, well-planned charge on a
substantial scale. It was the old question of mobility versus
vulnerability, illustrated in a very pointed way. The Infantryman, a
small but a slow and steady target; the horseman, a large but a rapid
and unsteady target, necessitating the spasmodic resighting of rifles on
the part of the defence, and, by his very impetus, exercising a coercive
moral effect upon their minds. When to use the aggressive power residing
in the horse and rifle combined must be determined in every particular
case by local circumstances. No rules can be laid down. But few can
doubt that on this occasion, apart from executive methods, Kitchener’s
instinct was sound. “Gallop up if necessary, and fire into the laager.”
Substitute some more general word for “laager,” and there you have
embodied in a few pregnant syllables the true spirit of the modern
mounted charge. Nobody on the field would have dreamed of giving the
same order to Cavalry, because of the manifest absurdity of demanding
this kind of work from troops whose charging efficiency was supposed to
depend on remaining in the saddle from first to last and wielding a
steel weapon. These limitations, if adhered to, especially with the
logical corollary of shock formation, albeit there was nothing to shock,
would have rendered the charge a fiasco. If not adhered to, the Cavalry
would have been in no better position than unskilled and ill-armed
mounted riflemen. That, in fact, is exactly what they were, technically,
plus the soldierly virtues and acquirements common to all professional
troops of their race. But the fact was not yet realized.

Neither was the converse realized, except intuitively by Kitchener, that
under modern conditions the real power to charge resides in well-armed
mounted riflemen, not in the troops conventionally known as Cavalry.
Circumstances had conspired to obscure this truth. The very name
“Mounted Infantry” was a source of error, and the corps so labelled was
a young corps, without a charging tradition, and only at the beginning
of its education in the efficient use of the horse.

2. The intervention, first, of Commandant Steyn, then of Christian de
Wet, with small mounted forces, coming from outside the battle area.

Steyn, with two guns and the Bethlehem commando “a few hundred” strong
(I can get no more specific details), represented the first of the
reinforcements which had been summoned away from Ladysmith to assist in
succouring Cronje. He came up at 9 a.m., occupied a hill in rear of our
eastern attack, delayed that attack for some two hours, and retained his
position during the day. How far he had ridden before entering the
action I do not know, but certainly a long distance.

Christian de Wet with a small force had, like French, been working
independently since the operations began. On the 15th, with 350 men, he
had attacked the army’s supply column at Waterval, and destroyed or
captured a third of it. On the 18th, having heard of Cronje’s peril, he
rode north from Koffyfontein to the Paardeberg battle-field, a distance
of thirty miles (just equal to French’s ride from Kimberley to the
Drifts), with 600 men and 2 guns, and at 5 p.m., by a rapid _coup de
main_, seized the cardinal point in our enveloping line—Kitchener’s
Kopje—overlooking the rear of our central attack. The hill, with its
neighbour Stinkfontein, also seized by De Wet, formed part of a chain,
running north and south, of which Steyn already held the northern part.
Firing in concert upon the batteries and troops below them, the two
leaders developed a counter-attack, which not only put an immediate end
to the British assaults upon the laager, but by the confusion which it
caused, brought about the abandonment at nightfall of hardly-won
positions. Whether, under any circumstances, Kitchener could have
induced the troops to rush the laager that evening is very doubtful, but
it is agreed on all hands that the immediate cause of failure was De
Wet’s masterly intervention at the right place and the right moment. The
indirect after-effects were still more important. Though a
disinclination to incur further heavy losses was, no doubt, the
determining factor in the decision of Lord Roberts not to renew the
assault, the marked change for the worse in the tactical situation must
have influenced his mind considerably. And if we follow the chain of
causation backward, we shall find, in the heavy blow struck at his
transport three days earlier by the same master-hand, an additional
reason for postponing what the strategical situation so urgently
needed—a rapid and uninterrupted advance on Bloemfontein, before Boer
reinforcements had time to arrive from other quarters of the theatre of
war. The Cavalry, for their part, were on starvation rations for two or
three days after the 18th, owing to the loss of forage-waggons.

Now let the reader compare the work done by French and De Wet
respectively in this third week of February, with a special view to the
controversy which this book deals with, remembering the relative size of
the armies for which each worked and the relative independent strength
with which each operated. The analogy in regard to work done is in many
respects close and obvious, the disparity in force equally striking.
Both men alike were actuated by the Cavalry spirit in its truly wide
sense of the mounted spirit: both were dashing leaders of Horse, linked
in sentiment by the horse. But what could De Wet have done if he, an
uneducated farmer, and his men, a rude militia, unaccustomed to drill
together except at rare intervals, had been burdened with the
disqualifications under which the Cavalry laboured?

There are no abnormalities here which in the least degree discount the
plain lesson for future wars. But, as usual, the official critics, in
discussing the Paardeberg campaign, resolutely ignore its plainest
lesson. Our own Official Historian pays ample tribute to De Wet’s skill
and dash, but refrains from any comparison of methods and armaments
which might raise the thorny issue. The German historian (vol. i., p.
187) introduces De Wet with the observation that he “arrived from the
south” with 500 men. How very simple it sounds to arrive from the south!
Later on (p. 227), the Boer General is criticized for not having done
more, the suggestion apparently being that he might have brought about
the rout, or partial rout, of the British forces on the south side of
the Modder, and have extricated Cronje there and then. I need not
investigate the grounds of this hypothesis, which I take to be
far-fetched, to say the least. Certainly, if De Wet had produced these
results, he would have performed one of the most extraordinary feats in
the history of war. My point is that the suggestion is complacently
advanced without a word of explanation, express or implied, as to why
such an exacting standard should be applied to Boer troops and such a
relatively mild standard to British troops. If the critic were to try
and equalize his standards, he would find himself writing of the
previous day’s operations, that French “arrived from the west” with
1,500 men, and blocked Cronje’s advance, but that if he had shown proper
resolution, he should have routed Cronje there and then. Or, to take an
example from the day of the battle itself: Gordon’s brigade of Cavalry,
something over 800 strong and 12 guns, arrived from Kimberley at about
the same time as De Wet from Koffyfontein, and did useful work in
seizing the Koodoos Heights to the north-east of the battle-field; but
why not suggest that it should have intervened with crushing effect in
the main battle, or that French himself, who, with Broadwood’s brigade
and the Carbineers, also performed useful work in watching Cronje’s line
of retreat, should have assisted actively in the assault?

To those who imagine that the relative merits of Cavalry and the pure
type of mounted riflemen have been judicially weighed, or even
consciously contrasted, by Germans, and that we can safely fortify
ourselves with their opinion in favour of the retention of the steel as
the superior weapon, I commend the study of these chapters on the
Kimberley and Paardeberg operations, and especially of the passage
dealing in detail with the work of the British Cavalry (pp. 163–165,
176–178). Abounding in wise and true criticism, containing scarcely a
sentence which can be challenged in any direct, positive way, they
constitute a perfect masterpiece in the art of begging the one really
fundamental question. What is the use of demonstrating that Roberts’s
strategy from the outset bore the character rather of an attempt to
manœuvre Cronje away from Kimberley than of an effort to defeat him
where he stood, and that it was mainly through Cronje’s own errors that
his envelopment was accomplished, if no clue is given as to the
underlying motives of the British General’s cautious policy? Political
motives apart, the dominating military fact was the extremely formidable
character of the Boers as mounted riflemen—a known, proved fact, which
rightly and naturally exercised a profound influence on Roberts’s plans.
Without a recognition of this fact the whole operations are
unintelligible. It is impossible to understand why it was necessary to
employ an Army Corps whose mounted troops alone exceeded the enemy’s
main force, and to use most of these mounted troops not tactically but
strategically. Nor can we understand why the operations ended so
successfully as they did, unless we realize that of the two constituents
of the Boer fighting strength, the horse and the rifle, Cronje,
encumbered by his precious waggons and by his helpless non-combatants,
persisted in relying almost wholly on the rifle, to the neglect of the
horse. On the other hand, a recognition of that dominant military fact
explains most of the minor shortcomings and errors upon which the German
critic comments adversely. One fault only it does not explain, the
imperfect system of command, but that was far worse in the Boer army
than in our own. It explains why Methuen’s division was not used for a
containing attack upon the Magersfontein trenches, so as to pin down
Cronje at an earlier stage; why the whole of the Cavalry were used for
the raid on Kimberley, to the neglect of other important duties; and it
throws into vivid light the detailed criticisms passed upon the Cavalry
themselves. As to these latter criticisms, one can only admire the
unerring dexterity with which the critic skates over the thinnest of
thin ice in avoiding even the most distant allusion to the
distinguishing features of Cavalry as the standard European arm. On
armament and equipment he is silent. No one could gather that the
Cavalry carried steel weapons and were equipped and trained primarily
for shock. In commenting on the destruction of horse-flesh (p. 176), he
notices several preventable causes, but associates none with the
conventional systems of peace training. He is severe on the failure in
reconnaissance, and attributes it principally to the effect of the
modern long-range rifle in keeping scouts and patrols at a distance, but
he does not suggest that the Cavalry carbine was an inadequate weapon,
or that the lack of individual skill and initiative was connected in any
way with the traditional training of Cavalry.

On the fire-action of Cavalry, as at the Drifts on February 17, he would
do well to study his compatriot Bernhardi. Like our own Official
Historian, he regards such action as an interesting and important modern
discovery, and descants sapiently on the additional value it will give
to Cavalry in future wars. No writer on any other arm but Cavalry would
dare to show such ignorance. As though, nearly forty years earlier and
five years before his own great war against the French, the American
Cavalry leaders had not in scores of similar combats proved the value of
fire-action! Surely he must have heard of Sheridan’s brilliant
interception of Lee’s army in April, 1865?

On Cavalry in offence he is enigmatically reticent. The strange comment
on the Klip Drift charge I have noticed. Equally strange are the
comments on subsequent actions. Much impressed, apparently (pp. 159 and
166), by the failure of French’s division to dislodge the little
Dronfield detachment on February 16, as compared with their success in
containing Cronje on the 17th, he seems to be on the very verge of
embracing the obvious rational conclusion. The two combats he describes
as being of “quite extraordinary value” for instructional purposes. We
wait breathlessly for the inference. But there is none, except, so far
as I understand him, the depressingly lame conclusion that no more _can_
be done by Cavalry than was done at Dronfield. And yet a few pages
earlier (p. 150) we find him accepting De Wet’s destructive attack on
the army’s supply column as the most natural thing in the world; while a
few pages later he is actually blaming the same leader for not
converting his intervention at Paardeberg (smart enough in itself, in
all conscience) into a decisive attack against immensely superior

The exasperating feature of all this is that for a controversialist like
myself, who is trying to make a point good, there is never anything
quite concrete enough to grapple with closely. It is not as if, in his
remarks on the Klip Drift charge, the critic ever even alluded to the
conventional function of Cavalry in offence, shock with the _arme
blanche_, and endeavoured to explain why it was in abeyance in all this
fighting against the Boers, and why we may expect that in future wars it
will resume its old sway. If he were to take that course, issue could be
joined frankly and fairly. But, as I have said, he is absolutely silent
on this crucial point, just as he is absolutely silent on the
comparative merits of the Boer type. The two themes, so patently and
intimately intertwined, are kept rigorously distinct, shut off from one
another by a kind of thought-tight bulkhead which divides his mind into
two hermetically-sealed compartments, in one of which, I suppose, is
enshrined the _arme blanche_ dogma, inviolate, inviolable, not to be
sullied by the least intrusion of polemical argument.

It is strange enough to find Germans accepting this class of criticism.
It is barely credible that we, whose war this was, should, in our turn,
accept it at second-hand from Germans and hail it as oracular. That
seems to be the situation. But the paradox does not end there. As I
shall show at the proper time, Bernhardi’s work, the bible of our own
Cavalry school, contains within itself the most crushing refutation of
the _arme blanche_ theory, simply because his special purpose and
special environment permitted him to descant more freely and
enthusiastically on the virtues of the rifle. He, too, kept the rifle
and the steel in carefully separated compartments, but the arrangement
is so transparent that it cannot deceive. Experience of his own in South
Africa, confirming in every particular those fire-lessons which he drew
from the American Civil War, would have saved him from many palpable
inconsistencies. However that may be, let the reader clearly understand
this, that what I have quoted from the official critic is the kind of
evidence on which German practice is founded. If he thinks it convincing
and satisfactory, well and good. But let him not be deluded into
thinking that the Germans have honestly assimilated and co-ordinated the
lessons of the South African War. The contrary can be proved to
demonstration out of their own mouths.

It must be added that, besides these comments on the Kimberley
operations, scarcely any attention is paid in the German Official
History to the mounted question. The war may be truly said to have been
studied by Germans from a purely Infantry standpoint. That the mounted
factor was dominant throughout is a fact they disregard, even if they
perceive it.

                           II.—POPLAR GROVE.

                             MARCH 7, 1900.

I have now to record the progress of events up to the capture of
Bloemfontein. The investment of Cronje’s laager lasted nine days. De Wet
reinforced the key position at Kitchener’s Kopje, and implored Cronje to
break out. Cronje could not induce his men, whose horses were gradually
destroyed by Artillery fire, to try. De Wet, who was driven off his
kopje by an enveloping movement in which the Cavalry took the principal
part, tried to regain it two days later and failed. Meanwhile
reinforcements from other parts of the theatre of war gradually brought
the total of Boers outside the lines and between Paardeberg and
Bloemfontein up to something between 5,000 and 6,000. Aware of the
process of reinforcement, and fully alive to the ill-effects of delay,
Roberts tried to arrange for a raid by the Cavalry on Bloemfontein. By
the 24th transport had been collected, the brigades reorganized, and all
was ready for a start. But at the last moment French was compelled
reluctantly to state that the horses were not in a fit state for the
expedition. De Wet might possibly have made some more effective
diversion with the newly-arrived troops, had not the moral decay which
made such havoc in the Boer forces after the date of Cronje’s capture
begun even before that capture was consummated.

Cronje surrendered with 4,000 men on February 29. Vastly more important
as the results might have been, had it been possible to storm the laager
and accelerate the advance on the Free State capital, Paardeberg was,
nevertheless, the turning-point in the war. Roberts’s broad scheme of
strategy was signally justified. Many days before the actual surrender
pressure had been relieved at every threatened point in the theatre of
war, Mafeking alone excepted—at Kimberley, at Colesberg, Dordrecht, and
other points along the frontier of Central Cape Colony, and at the
Tugela heights and Ladysmith. Buller fought the successful battle of
Pieter’s Hill on the day Cronje surrendered, and on the next day
Ladysmith was relieved.

Another week’s delay followed Cronje’s surrender, a delay attributed by
our Official Historian mainly to the need of still further recuperating
the Cavalry and Artillery horses, partly also to the necessity of
increasing the general supplies for the army, in view of the
contemplated change of base to the Free State railway. Behind all we see
the far-reaching effects of De Wet’s raid on the supply column on the
15th of the month.

Methuen’s division had been sent north by way of Kimberley. With the
other three Infantry divisions, 4,900 mounted riflemen (including some
recent additions), and 2,800 regular Cavalry, Roberts, on March 6, had
an army with an effective strength in round numbers of 30,000 men and
116 guns. Facing him, on the Poplar Grove position, a few miles east,
and barring the road to Bloemfontein, were between 5,000 and 6,000 Boers
and 8 guns under De Wet. These are the figures supplied at the time by
the Intelligence, and apparently accepted by the Official Historian,
though Villebois de Mareuil is quoted as having estimated them at 9,000.
But the Frenchman appears to have reckoned in the forces at Petrusberg
and elsewhere, which did not take part in the coming battle. Roberts,
giving the outside estimate of 14,000 men and 20 guns in his
Instructions of March 6, evidently included, in order to be on the safe
side, all the commandos which were known to have left Colesberg,
Stormberg, and Ladysmith, but which the Intelligence mentioned as “not
since located.”

The Boers occupied a crescent of heights no less than twenty-five miles
in extent astride of the Modder River. The ford at Poplar Grove Drift
formed the communicating link between the commandos on the left or
southern bank, which were the most numerous, and the commandos on the
right or northern bank. The natural line of retreat to Bloemfontein lay
by roads on the left bank, and in particular by the road crossing the
river at Poplar Grove Drift, and thence following its course closely
eastward. The only alternative, or rather additional route, on this side
of the river, that via Petrusberg, took a much more southerly sweep,
and, since it skirted the extreme Boer left, which rested on the hills
known as the Seven Kopjes, could only be regarded as a perilous flank
line of retreat, which any threat of envelopment on the left would
suffice instantly to close.

The plan of Lord Roberts was that French, with all the Cavalry, half the
Mounted Infantry, and six batteries, should sweep round the Boer left by
a détour of some seventeen miles, get in rear of their centre, and block
their line of retreat by the Poplar Grove Road. To this road, and
somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Drift, he foresaw that the greater
part of the Boer force, threatened in front by three divisions of
Infantry and 70 guns, and in rear by the mounted troops and 42 guns,
must converge. Here, then, he hoped to bring about a second Paardeberg,
once more in the bed of the Modder River.

The scheme in general character was what the situation demanded. After
what had happened, and in view of the disparity of forces, there could
have been no question here of manœuvring De Wet from his positions.
The marvel was that he dared to risk (and there is no doubt that he
intended to risk) a battle against such odds and in the existing moral
condition of the burghers. To aim at his complete destruction was the
only course worthy of Lord Roberts and his army. The tactical method
proposed, that of using the bulk of the mounted troops as a distinct
tactical unit, was equally sound. Numerically, our mounted troops
exceeded the whole Boer army as estimated by the Intelligence. The force
allotted to French—approximately 5,000 troopers and 42 guns—was five
times superior in Artillery to the whole Boer force, not far short of
equality in horsemen, and was certainly superior to the commandos on the
south bank, with which he was specially concerned. This force, moreover,
had the immense advantage of possessing complete independent mobility,
whereas the Boers, if they wished to maintain the semblance of an
organized army, had to preserve their heavy transport and conform their
speed to it. I have often alluded to the importance of this governing
factor, and at Poplar Grove, in particular, it must be borne in mind if
we are to gain any instruction from what happened. For the rest, the
function designed by Roberts for French was the same as that performed
by him so admirably, albeit with a weak force, at the Drifts on February
17—that is, to contain the Boer force until the rest of our army should
have time to come up and crush it.

I have only sketched the plan of operations, and I can only sketch what
actually happened. I must assume that the reader has before him the map
and the narratives of the Official and _Times_ Histories.

There is no dispute as to the facts, and both accounts in this respect
are substantially the same, but that of the _Times_, for a reason to
which I shall have to refer later, is more lucid. There has been much
controversy over the day’s work and over the cause which led to an
almost painful fiasco. Some of this controversy is not strictly relevant
to our inquiry, and I shall refer to it as briefly as possible. The
point I have to make is absolutely simple and unmistakable.

Let the reader first read the Instructions issued by Roberts on March 6,
and grasp their spirit. Their details are not, and could not have been,
cut and dried. Battles never follow the course of cut-and-dried
instructions. One point needs special notice, that Roberts expected the
Cavalry to be well _behind_ the Boer positions and somewhere near the
Modder before the Infantry began direct attacks, and before the enemy
began any general retreat. The sixth division, which was to follow the
track of the Cavalry for several miles, and was then to capture Seven
Kopjes, on which the Boer left rested, would find the enemy “shaken by
the knowledge that the Cavalry had passed their rear.” The movements of
the other three Infantry divisions were, it is implied, to conform to
the course of events in this quarter. On the other hand, the Cavalry
division is regarded as wholly independent of the other arms. It was to
set the pace, so to speak, and govern the course of events.

Now, it is quite clear from the narrative that from the very first there
was no chance of realizing the Commander-in-Chief’s idea in its fulness.
To have done that it would have been necessary for French either to make
so wide a détour as to pass outside the range of vision of the Boers on
Seven Kopjes, or, describing a shorter curve, to circle unobserved round
Seven Kopjes before daylight, and thence to make for the Modder. To be
seen was to precipitate the Boer retreat. Roberts seems scarcely to have
realized this, and I think he is fairly open to the criticism that he
might have rested his whole plan more boldly on the specific
Intelligence report that there were only 6,000 Boers opposed to him, who
must, however good or bad their _morale_, begin an immediate retreat
directly they realized that the road to Bloemfontein was threatened by
so large and mobile a force as that of French. On this basis he would
have altered the tone of his instructions to the Infantry, omitted
references to preliminary bombardments, and enjoined speed as the
all-important requisite.

French appears from the first to have treated the conception of getting
round the Boer rear _unobserved_ as hopeless, on the ground of time and
the condition of his horses. He himself, with good reason, suggested
starting overnight. Roberts rejected this proposal, and named the hour
of 2 a.m. Owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding, French did not start
till 3 a.m. He marched very slowly, halted at 5 a.m. expressly in order
to “wait for daylight,” which came at 5.45, and reached the farm
Kalkfontein, three miles south-east of Seven Kopjes, at about 6.45 a.m.,
having covered twelve miles in three and three-quarter hours. He had
been observed and, at 6.30, fired at from Seven Kopjes, and so far from
circling north-east round that hill in order to make for the Modder, he
had inclined, after passing it, slightly to the south, and now, as the
official map shows, could not be said to be thoroughly “in rear” even of
Seven Kopjes. This inclination was made partly with the object of
watering his horses at Kalkfontein dam, a step which he considered
essential. The halt at the dam seems to have lasted about three-quarters
of an hour for the bulk of the division, though detachments continued to
push on north and north-east. In the meantime French rode out to

Let us pause here for a minute. It must be clear that, whatever the
justification, French’s action was altogether inconsistent with the idea
of a rapid sweep of an independent mounted force round the enemy’s rear.
He has been criticized for not furthering that idea, and the Official
Historian, in the course of his rather rambling and obscure comments
upon the day’s work, meets the point by replying that if French, owing
to the condition of his horses, thought the task impossible, “it is safe
to say that there is in the world no living authority who can pronounce
a decision against him.” Let us accept that conclusion unreservedly,
adding, however, that French, under the circumstances, should have
frankly told his Chief that he could not attempt to carry out the full
design, instead of leaving him and the whole army to understand that an
effort, at any rate, would be made. Roberts would certainly have altered
his plan, on the assumption that French, although he could turn the Boer
left, could not within the time allotted him compass the complete
half-circle which would bring him to the Modder before the enemy fully
realized the threat to their communications.

Apart from that criticism, let us agree that French was free from blame
in not being in a position to move in force from Kalkfontein before 7.30
a.m. or thereabouts. Was the game up? It had scarcely begun. The Cavalry
advance had been a complete surprise to the Boers. Their gun-fire from
Seven Kopjes at 6.30 appears to have coincided with their first
discovery of the turning movement. At seven they realized that their
position was turned, though not enveloped, and between seven and eight
they began the only course open to them—a retreat, both from the Seven
Kopjes and from Table Mountain, the next position northward, towards the
Poplar Grove Road, just as Roberts had foreseen. French in person
witnessed the beginning of this retreat, and reported it to Roberts in
two successive messages, at 7.30 and 8 a.m., noting in the second
instance the presence of a long line of waggons, and adding in both
cases that he was “following the pursuit with Artillery fire.” But how
was he to use his 5,000 horsemen? There were two alternatives: one, to
make a direct pursuit; the other, to resume the thread of Roberts’s
original idea, and endeavour to intercept the Boer retreat at the river.
The first meant less distance for his horses and a strong offensive rôle
over an ideal terrain on the lines traditionally reserved for Cavalry;
the second meant a détour involving more strain to his horses, though on
equally good terrain, and culminating in a semi-defensive containing
rôle like that which he had played on February 17. French rejected the
first alternative, because, in the words of his second message, the
enemy were “too well protected by riflemen on neighbouring kopjes and
positions to enable me to attack them, mounted or dismounted.” But,
while rejecting this aim, he did not resolutely embrace the other,[30]
which was still undoubtedly practicable, in view of the fact that the
Boer retreat, though it was covered by mounted skirmishers, was
maintained throughout at the rate of ox-waggons not of unhampered
horsemen. The division was sent to the low ridge of Middlepunt, some
five miles north-east of Kalkfontein, where one brigade at least was
actually nearer to the river than a considerable part of the Boer
retreating forces; but here, again, it was brought to a standstill by
“small groups” of Boer riflemen. From this time (8.30 a.m.) until the
evening, the story is one of impotence on the part of the division, in
the face of mere handfuls, relatively, of these riflemen, who
represented the only stout-hearted element in a thoroughly disorganized
force. It was the story of Dronfield over again: the failure of Cavalry,
armed and equipped as the Cavalry were, to develop _offensive_ power
against mounted riflemen.


Footnote 30:

  I follow the account of French’s motives given by the “Official
  History.” Both the _Times_ History and Mr. Goldman represent him as
  having decided from the first against interception, and regard the
  next move, to Middelpunt Ridge, as the first stage in an indirect or
  semi-direct pursuit. The point is not material. It was either
  irresolute interception or indirect pursuit.


There need be no doubt as to the nature of the Boer retreat. The
“Official History,” indeed, speaks of “panic” (p. 201), and De Wet, when
he appeared on the scene, seems to have regarded the flight as a
disgraceful surrender to unreasoning fear. But the evidence does not
support this extreme view. De Wet was not present on the Boer left when
the Cavalry made its appearance, and did not realize that retreat was
imperative. The fact that every gun and waggon was eventually saved, and
that no prisoners were taken, is inconsistent with the full meaning of
the word “panic.” On the other hand, it is quite certain that the
greater part of the Boer force was thoroughly demoralized, determined
not to fight, and deaf to the entreaties and threats of Kruger, who met
them on the Poplar Grove Road, and that it was only by the valour and
self-sacrifice of a very small minority, spurred on by the fiery energy
of De Wet, that a thin rear-guard was formed and maintained throughout
the morning and afternoon. A resolute stroke would have broken down this
flimsy screen, and turned what was already a defeat into a rout.

In the efforts that have been made to explain the ineffective action of
the Cavalry, much stress is laid on the condition of the horses. But the
irony of the matter is that weak tactics brought their own punishment,
and produced far greater exhaustion in the horses than a policy of
strong offence. At 8.30, Broadwood’s brigade, on the extreme right of
the division, as it deployed on the Middelpunt ridge facing north, was
only seven miles from the river. French, however, contracting his front,
ordered Broadwood to close in westward. Immediately a party of Boers
seized some farm-buildings which Broadwood evacuated, and began to
enfilade our line. Broadwood was then sent back, with an additional
brigade of Mounted Infantry and a battery, and it took these troops two
hours (until 11.30) to dislodge the audacious Boer detachment. Broadwood
now asked for permission to pursue immediately, but French allowed
another hour to elapse.[31] Then an advance to the river was begun, and
even now such an advance offered great possibilities of success. But
again De Wet interposed a screen which checked the whole division.


Footnote 31:

  Broadwood’s request, and the delay, are not expressly noted in the
  “Official History.” In fairness to Broadwood, I take them from the
  _Times_ History. But it is quite clear from the official narrative
  that there must have been a considerable delay.


The principal opposition came from a group of only forty men (“Official
History,” p. 202) at Bosch Kopjes, on our extreme right. Broadwood was
sent back (about 2 p.m.) by a long détour to envelop this point, while
the batteries and a brigade of Mounted Infantry attacked it in front.
Two hours were spent in formally carrying the position. By this time (4
p.m.) all the commandos, with their guns and waggons, had escaped. A
last rear-guard was driven in at 5 p.m. by the Cavalry brigades of
Gordon and Porter. What the average distance covered by the division in
the course of the day amounted to it is difficult to say, but
Broadwood’s brigade, as the _Times_ History points out, must certainly
have covered at least forty miles, or nearly double the distance which
would have sufficed originally to place it astride the Modder. The
division had suffered some fifty casualties, and the loss of 213 horses.
These were almost the only casualties to the army during the day.

What of the Infantry? Here the original idea, deeply implanted on the
minds of all concerned, that the Cavalry would succeed at an early hour
in placing itself directly in rear of the Boer centre, produced strange
results. Nobody was prepared for a premature Boer flight, and few could
take it in. It will be remembered that movements were to conform to the
right, where the sixth division, acting in concert with the Cavalry, was
to storm Seven Kopjes. The halt of the Cavalry at Kalkfontein caused a
corresponding halt of the sixth division. Repeated messages from
headquarters (based on French’s reports) could not persuade the
divisional Commander that the position was untenanted. It was formally
attacked and occupied near noon, four hours after its evacuation.
Hesitation and delay were communicated all down the line, each brigade
waiting for the next.

All this indicates an atmosphere, common to the whole army, of excessive
caution. The _Times_ Historian suggests that a more resolute advance on
the part of the Infantry, and especially on the part of the sixth
division, might have turned the scale in promoting more vigorous action
by the Cavalry. No doubt it would have had this effect. But it is surely
a very poor compliment to the Cavalry arm to suggest, as Mr. Goldman
does, that it is not their business to push home an active pursuit
unless the enemy’s retreat has been originally brought about by Infantry
and guns. The fact is, of course, that the Cavalry controlled the course
of events. They had been expressly entrusted with this duty from the
first, and nothing could lighten the responsibility, least of all a
premature flight on the part of the enemy. They alone were in touch with
what was actually happening, and in them alone lay the power to infuse
vitality into the action.

What are we to conclude? First, that French, apart altogether from the
capacity of his men, was below his usual form on this day, otherwise he
would have risked more and tried harder, even against his own judgment,
for a more energetic officer never lived. Second, that his men, in
training and armament, were unequal to their work, and that at the
bottom of his heart he knew it. I speak with especial reference to the
regular Cavalry. The half-trained Mounted Infantry who worked with them
had been brought up to believe that they lacked that highest sort of
offensive power which was held to reside in Cavalry. Who can fail to
detect the paralyzing influence of the _arme blanche_ at Poplar Grove?
When I suggest that French himself must have felt it, I only make the
plain inference from his message to Roberts at 8 a.m. Who were these
“riflemen” whose protective action forbade a direct pursuit, mounted or
dismounted? Cavalry under another name, performing one of the elementary
functions of Cavalry—the shielding of a retreat. Assuredly, if the steel
weapon had any merit at all, then was the time to show it. Where is the
“future war” against a white race, in which, all the circumstances
considered, better opportunities are going to present themselves? No
such war can be conceived unless, indeed, accepting the _reductio ad
absurdum_ in its entirety, we reckon _arme blanche_ training as a
disadvantage, and count on meeting mounted troops destitute of the very
qualities which enabled the scanty Boer rear-guard to stave off
destruction from its main body.

The Official commentary upon Poplar Grove is not well-conceived. It is
difficult to reconcile with the plain narrative of facts, which is
evidently written by a different hand, and in lucidity suffers only from
not being constructed with a view to the obvious conclusions and from
the absence of a map showing times and movements. The map shows none of
the original Boer positions on the south bank—only some arrows marked
“Boers retreating.” The British dispositions are those at 11.30 a.m. As
a guide to the action, the map is useless, and the _Times_ map, though
topographically less perfect, must be consulted. In the text there is no
practical instruction—not a hint that there was anything wrong with the
equipment, armament, or tactics of the Cavalry. Overlaid with irrelevant
invectives against the British public for expecting too much of its
troops, and with vague moralization on the psychology of the war, we
find two definite propositions recurring: that the initial failure of
the Cavalry to work round the enemy’s rear before the Boers took alarm
necessarily and immediately involved the failure of the whole operation,
and that the root-cause lay in the condition of the Cavalry horses,
which is written of here and elsewhere as though it were a circumstance
attributable to an “act of God” wholly out of control of the Cavalry
themselves. The narrative itself refutes both propositions.[32] They are
unfair to everybody concerned—to Lord Roberts in particular, to the
Infantry, to the Cavalry themselves, and to French. It is difficult to
believe that brave men find any satisfaction in hearing themselves
defended in this fashion. That is the vice of worshipping a fetish. A
purely technical question is converted into a question personal to a
branch of the service. And he who attacks the fetish is forced to risk
the odious imputation of attacking persons and regiments.


Footnote 32:

  See p. 201, line 22, where the Cavalry narrative, broken off at p.
  197, is resumed (8 or 8.30 a.m.) “On the left” (_i.e._, on the south
  of the Modder) “disaster was only warded off by the gallantry of small
  groups of the bolder burghers,” etc., down to p. 203.


I allude with some reluctance to Mr. Goldman’s commentary on Poplar
Grove. His enthusiasm for the fetish, always in excess of his
discretion, here leads him into confusions and contradictions which, to
an unbiassed mind, effectually destroy the case he is endeavouring to
build up. His narrative, unintentionally, is not always accurate. At
page 132 he represents French, soon after 7.30 a.m., when he first saw
the Boer retreat, as “straining every nerve to overtake” a disorganised
enemy only three miles ahead, but “crippled by broken-down animals,”
failing “to bring his brigades up in time to throw them on the close
ranks of the enemy.” No such scene took place. French, as his own
messages and the known facts show, refrained from this sort of direct
pursuit on the express ground that the enemy’s skirmishers were too
strong. In any case, the suggestion is untenable. The Boer retreat was
regulated by the speed of their transport. The horses, unquestionably,
were in bad condition, but to paint them as too “crippled” to overtake
waggons, is not only exaggerated but inconsistent with what followed. To
do Mr. Goldman justice, it is also inconsistent with his own subsequent
commentary; for on page 137 he restates the facts, without any
criticism, but correctly.

Then he proceeds. Admitting that the occasion was one for the Cavalry
arm to “turn a defeat into a rout, and capture guns and waggons,” he
nevertheless fathers on French (without any authority that I can
discover) the idea that such action should rightly be preceded by the
enemy’s defeat at the hands of Infantry and guns. Then, combating the
suggestion that the Cavalry should have charged through the enemy’s
screen at Middelpunt, as they charged at Klip Drift, he reminds us that
the Klip Drift charge was “mainly through flank-fire, while here the
Boers were in front,” and a charge must have meant “certain destruction
and probable annihilation.” After reading the Official and _Times_
narratives, one can afford to smile at this hysterical exaggeration, but
that is a small matter. What does this comment, as a whole, imply? Once
more, a crushing condemnation of the steel weapon. The Boers were just
as much “Cavalry,” in the broad sense of armed horsemen, as French’s
troops themselves. Can a frontal charge never be made by Cavalry, in the
narrow sense, upon mounted riflemen? Here, if ever, was the opportunity.
It is the old _reductio ad absurdum_—an unconscious but unreserved
admission that the rifle dictates mounted tactics, not the steel. For,
of course, Mr. Goldman means by “charge” a charge with the steel weapon.
No other charge is recognized by him, and I hope the reader will note
the tardy but instructive sidelight on the Klip Drift episode, where, as
I showed, the steel weapon was not in question at all.

Still, Mr. Goldman is always candid, and, in spite of his hypothesis of
“certain destruction,” we find him admitting in the next breath that
French was unduly delayed by a small number of audacious skirmishers.
Immediately after he is qualifying this admission by attributing failure
mainly to the condition of the horses. Finally, he concludes that
“failure was clearly attributable, not in any degree to defects in
executive operations on the field, but to the details of the plan as a
whole not having been evolved in the first instance with sufficient
preciseness of calculation.” Of all lessons to be drawn from Poplar
Grove this is the least helpful, and, if only Mr. Goldman knew it, the
most damaging to the arm whose interests he has so warmly and genuinely
at heart. Of all arms in the service it least becomes the Cavalry to
complain of lack of precision in a Commander-in-Chief’s calculations.
Their mobility invests them with the duty and privilege of correcting
and turning to advantage errors in calculation, especially when the
error arises in the first instance from an overestimate of the strength
and morale of the enemy.

Before leaving Poplar Grove, I wish to make an additional reference to
two points:

1. _Condition of Horses._—It must strike any impartial student of these
operations that the argument from the condition of French’s horses, weak
as they certainly were from unpreventable causes, is subjected to an
intolerable strain. I do not wish to lay any undue stress on horse
management, though we miss the acknowledgment that the horse is a
possession whose good condition is one of the supreme tests of
regimental efficiency. Gunners, from the Colonel to the driver, hold it
a point of honour not to blame their horses as long as there is anything
else left to blame, and the Cavalry have the same high ideal. It is only
when the _arme blanche_ is in danger of discredit that we find its
advocates, official and unofficial, laying excessive stress on the
condition of the horses, without even a suggestion that the Cavalry may
have been partly to blame for it. But I want the reader to go beyond
these operations, and inquire, What standard of speed and endurance have
advocates of the _arme blanche_ in mind when they represent the arm as
tactically unfit? It must be inferred that the standard consists in
ability _at any moment_ to gallop a considerable distance at high
speed—"everlastingly to gallop," as Count Wrangel, the Austrian
authority, frankly puts it.[33] This standard is the logical result of
the shock theory of which Wrangel is an uncompromising exponent; for, as
I have pointed out, one of the four indispensable conditions of shock is
capacity to gallop fast, partly because of the highly vulnerable target
presented by mounted troops in mass, and partly because heavy impact is
the essence of shock. If, as in our own present peace training, we
reduce the standard of speed, in contradiction of our own Manual, we
compromise fatally on shock. In South Africa, shock being already
obsolete, the steel weapon was in reality obsolete too. This the Cavalry
could not make up their minds to recognize, and, among other hampering
associations, the idea of capacity for high speed as an ever-present
essential for strong tactical offence lived on in a good many minds. We
find it in correspondence and despatches; we can trace it constantly in
field-tactics, and it was probably in the back of French’s mind during
the whole of the Poplar Grove action, though it must have been clear
that in order to overcome the sporadic opposition of the Boer rear-guard
no such efforts were necessary. There is no question that the Boer
horses were far fresher and stouter than ours. If the Boers to a man had
fled from the field, we could not have caught them. But we should have
captured their guns and transport.


Footnote 33:

  “Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” Eng. Translation, p. 32.


The galloping idea in its extreme form is wholly foreign to the tactical
action of mounted riflemen, for whom the “charge” is a relative term,
denoting the climax of aggressive mobility, not an isolated exotic
flowering in the midst of a dull waste known as “dismounted action.” If
we consider mere physical effects, which are all that matter, the few
mounted riflemen who snapped at Broadwood’s flanks as he marched towards
the Modder, and afterwards held up two brigades and twelve guns for two
hours, did just as much for their side as the Scots Greys at Waterloo,
and, when they first made their attack, “charged” in as real and
substantial a sense as the Cavalry at Klip Drift.

It is tolerably certain that the exaggerated claim for speed as a
tactical _sine qua non_ at all moments will do more in future wars to
eliminate shock, and enthrone the rifle in its true position, than any
other factor, even although the opposing Cavalries enter the war with
the fixed conviction that they must join issue in terms of shock. The
side which first breaks that compact will win. In future wars Cavalry
will have far harder work to do than they have ever had before. In the
thick of a hard-fought war the galloping horse will be a rarity, the
regiment of galloping horses still rarer, the brigade or division a nine
days’ wonder. Any unit whose power to deal decisive strokes in action
can be exercised only by means of really high speed will be of little
service. Manchurian evidence confirms this truth.

2. _Horse Artillery acting with Cavalry._—This is a new point in our
discussion, and I ask the reader to watch it carefully throughout the
war. He will have been struck already by the large number of guns which
accompanied the Cavalry in these operations, and the disproportionately
small results which ensued. French had forty-two guns at Poplar Grove,
and was never opposed by more than two at a time, and altogether, I
think, by six. The question is, To what extent should mounted troops,
acting independently, rely on the support of Artillery? The war proves,
I think, that they should rely as little as possible on that form of
aid. When, for strategical purposes, high mobility is required, the
strain on the gun-teams is great, and may—though this rarely happened in
South Africa—limit the strategical mobility of the mounted troops. But I
am thinking more of field-tactics. Here the ill-effects of excessive
reliance on Artillery were often visible, particularly in offence. The
preliminary bombardment, a serious drag upon all offensive action in
South Africa, was the curse of mounted action. Generally ineffective in
its physical and moral results upon the enemy, it weakened the spirit of
offence by weakening surprise, which, in one form or another, is the
soul of aggressive mounted action. As events turned out, French would
have done better, I believe, at Poplar Drift if he had had no guns at
all. The problem which confronted him when he first sighted the Boer
retreat could not then have been solved by a compromise in which a
“pursuit with Artillery fire” figured as a prominent element. Such
pursuits are useless; the Artillery fire during the whole day caused, I
suppose, scarcely a dozen casualties, while a whole brigade of Mounted
Infantry had to be told off as escort to the seven batteries. At every
turn the possession of guns was a temptation to employ slow, formal
methods, where rude, overmastering vigour was requisite. At Dronfield we
can detect the same source of weakness. And at Klip Drift, would French
have charged at all without the support of an enormous weight of

The Boers, always weak in Artillery, do not seem at any time to have
placed much moral reliance on guns as a support for aggressive action.
Their weakness in aggression came from other causes. It was only when
they had lost all their Artillery that they carried aggressive mounted
action to its highest point.

It is true that in defence guns are often valuable to mounted troops.
Since leaving Ramdam, the one occasion on which French’s guns were
useful to him was on February 17, when he headed and contained Cronje,
pending the arrival of the Infantry. The two batteries which he had
succeeded in bringing with him, besides assisting to repel attacks on
the Cavalry, covered the drift which Cronje’s transport had to pass, and
made the crossing impossible. Later experience, however, proved with
increasing force that, even in defence, guns, however well fought—and
they were always magnificently fought—were often productive of more
embarrassment than advantage to a mounted force. For the moment I am
speaking of offence and defence as though they were distinct functions.
Of course, they are not. They melt into one another, and may alternate
half a dozen times in one day. The best defence is always tinged by
offence. An independent mounted force must be equipped to meet all
contingencies. Nevertheless, all things considered, I suggest that the
mounted troops who rely least on Artillery at any rate, when they are
given a distinctly aggressive task, will achieve most.

The reason, I think, is this: that their mobility and the surprise which
is its fruit make the personal factor paramount. The rifle is eminently
a personal weapon, the gun essentially an impersonal weapon. In that
respect, let us note in passing, the gun bears a distant analogy to the
sword. For the denser the mass of swordsmen and the greater the shock
sought to be produced, the less personal is the weapon.


                         MARCH 10 TO 13, 1900.

There is little that need detain us in the further advance to
Bloemfontein. It began on March 10, in three parallel columns under
French, Tucker, and the Commander-in-Chief, and ended in the occupation
of the capital on the 13th. Demoralization turned to genuine despair in
most of the burghers who fled from Poplar Grove. Whole commandos melted
to a shadow through desertion. It was only through the agency of
reinforcements brought up by De la Rey, notably the Transvaal Police
(Zarps), that a show of resolute opposition could be organized by De
Wet. At Abraham’s Kraal (or Driefontein), eighteen miles east, where, on
March 10, the next stand was made, and where French commanded, the
principal interest lies in the fine Infantry attack of the sixth
division towards the evening, and the stubborn defence made by the small
body of Zarps on the Driefontein Kopjes. An attempt by the Cavalry a
little earlier in the day to turn the enemy’s left was unsuccessful, and
the final pursuit came to nothing.

In the last stage of the march the Cavalry were handled vigorously and
did well, though the opposition was slight. The best minor tactical
stroke during the month’s operations was that delivered by Major
Scobell’s squadron of the Scots Greys late in the evening of the
12th.[34] On the 13th Bloemfontein was occupied.


Footnote 34:

  “Official History,” vol. ii., p. 235; _Times_ History, vol. iii, p.
  588. There was no question of using the _arme blanche_.


                              CHAPTER VIII
                        THE RELIEF OF LADYSMITH

                    DECEMBER, 1899, TO MARCH, 1900.

I interpose a chapter here in order to carry events in other parts of
the theatre of war up to the date of the capture of Bloemfontein.

A sketch will suffice, since specifically mounted operations were few.
No body, either of mixed mounted troops or of regular Cavalry reckoned
separately, comparable in size to that formed by Roberts in the main
theatre, existed anywhere else. The largest homogeneous mounted force
outside this area was Brabant’s newly raised Colonial division,
nominally 3,000 strong, which, in conjunction with Gatacre’s troops, had
been deputed to push back the invaders of Eastern Cape Colony from
Dordrecht and Stormberg, while Clements, succeeding French in the
positions opposite Colesberg, checked the menace to Central Cape Colony.
Brabant, however, seems not to have been able to muster an effective
strength of more than 2,000 during the period under review. That fine
permanent corps, the Cape Mounted Rifles, was a strong, stiffening
element in an otherwise raw force of Cape Colony volunteers.
Fortunately, the work before them was not severe, for the success of
Roberts in the north threw the Boers into a strictly defensive attitude
from the middle of February onwards, and in the early days of March
caused a general retreat. A successful attack upon Labuschagne’s Nek,
between Dordrecht and Jamestown, on March 4, gave the recruits

Clements had had a much harder task than Gatacre and Brabant. Stronger
forces opposed him, and the Boer retreat set in later. Early in February
all the regular Cavalry, save two squadrons of Inniskilling Dragoons,
had been diverted to Roberts’s command. There remained, besides these
squadrons, 500 Australian horsemen, together with Infantry and Artillery
which made up the force to a total strength of about 5,000 men and 14
guns. Against Clements—if the official estimate is correct—the forces at
one time were as great as 11,000. Clements, fighting stubbornly, was
forced back south of Rensburg, and, in the course of the retreat, all
his mounted troops, and particularly the Australians, did excellent
service—fire-tactics, of course, being the universal rule. The danger
was soon over. On February 21 Clements was reinforced with 900 mounted
men and two batteries, and at about the same period the tide of invasion
slackened. A week later, on the news of Paardeberg, the Boers were in
full retreat for the north. By the middle of March—two days after the
fall of Bloemfontein—Clements, Gatacre, and Brabant were all within the
Free State borders.

We need not enter at any length either into the siege of Ladysmith or
into the long series of operations which ended in its relief. The
numerical facts, broadly speaking, were that White, with 13,000 men and
51 guns, was invested by a force under Joubert which originally numbered
23,000 men and 17 guns, but which dwindled gradually by abstractions to
the Tugela, to Cronje, and to Colesberg, and finally fell to a strength
of about 5,000; while, on the line of the Tugela, Buller, reinforced in
the period following Colenso to a strength of 30,000 men and 73 guns,
faced Louis Botha and Lukas Meyer with a strength which varied in round
numbers from 7,000 to 9,000 men and about 18 guns.

As in the western theatre and in every other part of the field of war,
the rifle, whether in the hands of mounted men or Infantry, was the
decisive weapon. Artillery, as a mere statement of the relative
strengths in that arm shows, was comparatively negligible. Sword and
lance were out of court. Every responsible person at the time realized
this fact. Short as we were of mounted troops, nobody would have dreamed
of asking for more troops trained to shock on the ground that shock was
either requisite or possible.

The most striking circumstance about the mounted troops in Natal—upwards
of 5,000 in number—was the fact that rather more than half were locked
up in Ladysmith during the whole four months of the sieges. Four Cavalry
regiments, besides the Natal Carbineers, other Natal Volunteers, and the
greater part of the Imperial Light Horse—2,800 men in all—were
demobilized in this way. The mistake, no doubt, was serious, and White
has been freely blamed for it. At the same time, it is only fair to
White to put ourselves in his position, and recognize that the question
of retaining or parting with his mounted troops was subsidiary to the
much larger problem which originally faced him in deciding what was to
be the rôle of the Natal army after the battle of Ladysmith on October
30, 1899. Had he possessed, in his force of professional mounted
regiments, troops really capable, in conjunction with the volunteers, of
tackling the Boer mounted riflemen, it is difficult to believe that, in
spite of the moral and material value of Ladysmith, he would have
accepted investment there as an alternative to the maintenance of his
army as an active field-force. But the battle of the 30th, revealing a
deficiency in the striking-power of the army as a whole, had revealed a
weakness in the Cavalry which was in no way attributable to moral
causes, but simply to armament and training. This circumstance must have
influenced him powerfully in resolving to accept investment, a resolve
which it is exceedingly difficult to impugn. A retreat to the Tugela,
harassed by a greatly superior Boer force, whose temper was exhilarated
by the success at Nicholson’s Nek, would have been a hazardous
operation. It is no reflection on the regular Cavalry, but the simple
truth, to say that they had not as yet shown the capacity to act as
rear-guard for such a retreat.

But what kind of investment was White to accept? Here, no doubt, he is
open to the charge of compromising between two logical alternatives, the
one being to send away instantly the bulk of his mounted troops and
Field Artillery, and with the rest of his force to accept a formal
siege, with the purely passive object of detaining as many Boers as he
could; the other, to keep his force intact, and maintain a defence so
active and supple in character as to enable him to cut loose at any
moment and co-operate with the relieving force. Although something like
this latter course was evidently in his mind, as it would naturally be
in the mind of any spirited Field Commander, he did not clearly grasp
the determining factors and act accordingly. He did not foresee the
initial impotence of Buller before the Colenso position, also largely
attributable to a deficiency in efficient mounted troops. He occupied
too small a perimeter to permit of elastic offence, and he forgot that
the tactical weakness of his Cavalry was an obstacle even more serious
to the kind of operations he had in his mind than it was to the larger
plan of complete freedom which he had rejected. This weakness again
became manifest in the small offensive operations of November 14 and
December 7–8. Then came Buller’s failure at Colenso, and henceforth
White’s attitude, though courageous and unyielding, was strictly
passive. This was all the more to be regretted because the Boer
attitude, save for the one big attack of January 5 on Cæsar’s Camp and
Wagon Hill, and for the minor attack on November 9, was equally passive,
while their numbers sank to a point well below the strength of the

White’s mounted troops were reduced by degrees to the rôle of
foot-soldiers, and in that capacity took their share in the defence. The
part played by the regular Cavalry, gallant as it was, could not have
been, and was not, so important as that played by the irregulars, who
were genuine, though improvised riflemen. All alike took part in the
great fight of January 5, and by common consent the chief honours belong
to the Imperial Light Horse, whose heroic defence of Wagon Point, the
key to the threatened position, at a cost of 25 per cent. of the numbers
engaged, was as fine a feat of arms as their final attack at
Elandslaagte. It was by a detachment of the same regiment, in
conjunction with a body of Natal Mounted Volunteers, that the brilliant
little sortie of December 7–8 was carried out and the two heavy guns on
Pepworth Hill destroyed.

During the last month of the siege, when forage became scarce, and 75
per cent. of the Cavalry horses had to be turned adrift or converted
into food, the troopers returned their lances, swords, and carbines to
store, received rifles instead, and took regular posts in the defence.
That change of weapons once made, it is almost inconceivable that it
should not have been adhered to when horses were once more available.
Why deliberately revert to an inferior firearm? Why deliberately resume
steel weapons whose futility was manifest? Tradition—nothing more: the
ineradicable habit of associating together the horse and the steel
weapon as complementary elements of the highest mounted efficiency; the
same habit which induces General French, in defending the _arme
blanche_, to say that “nothing is gained by ignoring the horse, the
sword, and the lance,” as though these weapons were inseparable adjuncts
of the horse, and as though South African experience were not one long
and costly proof of the contrary.

Buller’s mounted force, about 2,600 strong during the period following
Colenso, was composed mainly of South African irregulars,[35] with two
and a half Cavalry regiments, and a few regular Mounted Infantry. It
played a creditable, though not a distinguished, part in the operations.
The battles, from the British point of view, were all pre-eminently
Infantry battles. In one instance only, so far as I am aware, was a
mounted corps employed in conjunction with Infantry in a really critical
and desperate fight, and that was the detachment of Thorneycroft’s
Mounted Infantry at Spion Kop. For the rest, we find them operating on
the wings, seizing advanced positions, and guarding the flanks of the
main attack. Fire-tactics are the invariable rule, and efficiency in
fire-tactics the test of general utility.


Footnote 35:

  South African Light Horse, Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, Bethune’s
  Mounted Infantry, Imperial Light Horse (1 squadron), Natal Carbineers
  (1 squadron), a few Natal Mounted Police.


There is reason to believe that the mounted troops might have been
employed to greater advantage had the higher command of the army been in
stronger hands. Though they were less than half as numerous as the
mounted force at the disposal of Lord Roberts, they were on the average
more than a quarter, and sometimes not far from a third, the strength of
the whole Boer force opposed to them—a tolerably high proportion, if we
reflect that the Boers, immensely strong though their position was, had
to sustain the attacks of 20,000 Infantry, to say nothing of an
overwhelming number of guns.

The most hopeful enterprise in which the mounted troops were ever
actually engaged was in the opening operations of the Spion Kop campaign
(January 18 to 20), when Dundonald’s brigade of 1,500 men, including one
Cavalry regiment, acted as advance-guard to Sir Charles Warren, who,
with the greater part of the army, was deputed by Buller to turn the
Boer right, while Lyttelton threatened the centre.[36] One of the most
disappointing features of a painful story was the waste of a golden
opportunity for utilizing mounted strength against an enemy whose high
tactical mobility rendered surprise exceedingly difficult. Dundonald, a
Cavalry man, certainly did his utmost, and, as far as he was allowed,
did well. Unnecessary delays had attended the turning movement from the
first, but a considerable measure of surprise was, in fact, obtained.
Few Boers had rallied to the threatened flank; none were entrenched.
Dundonald, operating boldly in advance, gained on the evening of the
18th a position, overlooking Acton Homes, which might, under vigorous
generalship, have been turned to great strategical advantage. His men
were in high fettle owing to the skilful surprise and defeat of a Boer
detachment which rode out to check them. But Warren seems to have
regarded his mounted troops wholly in a protective light, and to have
resented anything approaching independent action. The chance was thrown
away[37] and the operations never recovered from the initial
sluggishness of movement.


Footnote 36:

  “Official History,” vol. ii., chaps. xx-xxii.; _Times_ History, vol.
  iii, chaps. ix. and x.

Footnote 37:

  It is just possible, no doubt, to take a different view of the affair.
  The German critic, who is always indifferent to mounted questions,
  thinks the whole turning movement was a mistake, and that, therefore,
  the question of supporting Dundonald was not of much consequence. The
  facts of the wretched friction between Warren and Dundonald are set
  forth exhaustively in our own “Official History” (pp. 362, 363, and
  Appendix 9 [_c_]), and a reader can form his own opinion. The comment
  affords an example of that criticism by innuendo which so often mars
  the careful and conscientious narrative of facts, and which generally
  defeats its own object—that of avoiding direct censure on individuals.
  The result frequently is to censure the wrong individual. In this
  case, reading between the lines, one is led to infer that Dundonald
  was wholly to blame in not sending sufficiently explicit messages to
  Warren. This interpretation of what happened leaves out of account all
  the larger aspects of the case, and the chapters are so written as to
  obscure these larger aspects. Buller’s original orders to Warren (p.
  347) “embodied,” we are told, a “broad and bold conception.” So they
  undoubtedly did. Here is outspoken praise, well deserved. Whence came
  the failure, then? No one could guess from comments in the text,
  although, by exercising common sense on a study of the facts, two
  explanations stand out plainly: (1) That Buller, having framed his
  plan in outline, divested himself of responsibility for its execution,
  and remained a passive, though not an uncritical, spectator of events.
  (2) That speed in the turning movement was the essence of the plan,
  but that Warren never realized this, and was too slow, his mind
  perpetually fixed on his heavy transport and oblivious to the
  offensive possibilities of his advance. Ignoring these broad
  considerations, which have an obvious and direct bearing on the
  Dundonald-Warren friction, the Official Historian takes care to
  investigate and print every message bearing on that topic, and to
  justify, at any rate by implication, Warren’s caution. Could there be
  a worse moral, above all, for mounted troops? Overcurt as Dundonald’s
  messages were, they struck a note which would have elicited the right
  response from a mind tuned to the right key. One must make some
  allowance, too, for human nature. Imagine the feelings of a leader of
  horse who, at such a time and with such an opening before him, had
  been compelled at the outset to send back a regiment of regular
  Cavalry “to prevent the grazing oxen being swept away” from the main
  body! (Appendix 9 [_c_]).


Another opportunity for a vigorous use of mounted troops came after the
great fight at Pieter’s Hill (February 27), which led to the relief of
Ladysmith and to a general retreat of the Boer forces both from the
beleaguered town and from the Tugela heights. If we regard all Buller’s
previous operations as one long-drawn battle—and in a sense they may so
be regarded—now, it would seem, was the time for pursuit. The two
leaders of horse were undoubtedly anxious to pursue. Men and horses were
alike fresh. Buller refrained. There is a general agreement that he was
wrong. Whatever the prospects of success, he should unquestionably have
tried, for instinctive and habitual mounted energy was the vital need in
South Africa if a mounted enemy was to be not only defeated, but

At the same time, a close examination of the facts does not appear to
justify the assumption of the _Times_ historian that a pursuit would
have involved the Boers in utter destruction and defeat. The critic lays
excessive and indiscriminating stress on the demoralization of the
enemy. He forgets that Botha’s troops and the investing force combined
numbered in all about 13,000 men, as against 2,600 of our mounted
troops; that there was not much question of further co-operation by our
Infantry, who were exhausted by ten days of continuous fighting, and
that the encounters which actually did take place between our mounted
troops (regulars and irregulars alike) and the Boer rear-guard were not
of such a character as to warrant a belief that a general pursuit, begun
at the earliest possible moment, would have led to the destruction of
the Boer army.

Both the German and British Official Historians correctly point out
that, in order to have been really effective, the intervention of the
mounted troops should have begun at, or immediately after, the climax of
the great Infantry fight on the 27th. Here was just the difficulty: The
British attack, delivered on a front of about three miles, was
threefold—upon Railway Hill, Inniskilling Hill and Pieter’s Hill, the
latter representing the extreme Boer left, the only quarter at which the
mounted troops could possibly have intervened. The two first positions
were stormed in magnificent style by the Infantry, supported by a
tremendous fire of Artillery, and were won at about 5 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.
respectively—that is, very late in the afternoon. On the left, at
Pieter’s Hill, the Boers still stood desperately at bay. It was not till
6.30, in the growing dusk, that the southern, or nearest, crest of the
hill, held by the Standerton and Heidelberg commandos, was carried by a
final charge of 300 Irish Fusiliers, who lost a third of their strength
engaged and had all their officers killed or wounded. The northern part
of the hill was still obstinately held when the battle came to an end,
and was evacuated only during the night.

According to the “Official History,” the same unyielding attitude was
shown by the most valiant among the defenders of the other two hills,
who “clung most stubbornly to the broken ground behind these kopjes,”
after their trenches had been carried, and it was in view, we are told,
of these signs of dangerous resistance that Buller abandoned the idea of
a mounted pursuit. He was wrong, it must be concluded, even at this late
hour, when darkness and the Boer rear-guards must have severely limited
effective action; but his real fault lay farther back, in retaining the
mounted brigades well in the rear and out of sight all day instead of
planting them opposite the Boer left flank, where they would have acted
at least as a passive menace to the enemy, and might have caused a
premature retirement during daylight. We may speculate at will on what
might have happened. All we can say with confidence is that the Boers
were never more formidable than on this culminating day of four months’
strenuous resistance, and that only by using their own fire methods with
the utmost energy and determination could our troopers have turned a
defeat into a rout.

On that night a general Boer retreat set in. Among the besiegers of
Ladysmith, who had not fired a shot, something in the nature of a
genuine panic reigned, but the great majority of these had a long start
in respect both of time and distance. Botha’s commandos, too, gained
fully twelve hours’ start, for, in spite of a strong appeal from Barton
on Pieter’s Hill for a prompt advance by a flying column of all arms,
Buller made no preparation for a swift movement by the mounted troops.
On the morning of the 28th they were still behind the Tugela. A block on
the pontoon-bridge delayed the irregular brigade under Dundonald till 8
a.m., and the regular Cavalry brigade under Burn-Murdoch till 9 a.m.
Their orders were to work north-west and north-east respectively, not to
“pursue.” Still, limited as their orders were, they experienced
considerable difficulty in carrying them out. Botha had organized
adequate rear-guards to protect his retreat. Dundonald was checked twice
within two miles of Pieter’s Station, and, on the second occasion, had
to send for the assistance of Burn-Murdoch, who, by a later order of
Buller’s, and against his own repeated requests, had been kept inactive
in the gorge between Pieter’s Hill and the Station. The combined
brigades having eventually driven off this detachment of the enemy,
Burn-Murdoch moved on to the north-east, but in his turn was brought to
a complete standstill at the Klip River by the rifle and Artillery fire
of another Boer rear-guard, which was covering the withdrawal of guns
and waggons from Umbulwana Mountain. He held his ground till dusk,
prevented the destruction of the wooden bridge which spanned the Klip at
this point, and informed Buller that he intended to remain where he was
for the night, and to pursue on the morrow. Buller, for inadequate
reasons, recalled him. Dundonald, meanwhile, still meeting with sporadic
opposition, pushed on slowly in the late afternoon towards Ladysmith,
finally sending in two squadrons, whose arrival denoted the definite
relief of the town.

Buller had now, definitely and finally, set his face against pursuit.
Yet even on the morning of March 1 the chances of success, which had
steadily diminished, were still considerable. Although most of the Free
State forces and a substantial part of the Transvaal forces were out of
danger, the plain east of Ladysmith was still thronged with waggons and
guns, the last of which did not reach Elandslaagte till nightfall. Even
as near as Modder Spruit Station siege-guns were entrained as late as 11
a.m. Despair reigned in the Boer army as a whole. A resolute pursuit
must, we can fairly surmise, have led to the capture of a considerable
quantity of material and many guns. But we are bound equally to affirm
that here, as at every previous stage of these operations, and according
to our invariable experience through nearly three years of war in South
Africa, the measure of success would have been the measure of our
ability to overcome defensive fire-tactics with yet more vigorous
offensive fire-tactics. That Botha, who had effectually covered his
retreat on the 28th with parties of the same men who had gone through
the nerve-shattering experiences of the previous ten days, culminating
in the desperate struggle overnight, would have subsequently allowed his
transport and guns to be captured without an effort for their defence,
is a tempting, but an altogether illusory, hypothesis. Analogy points
the other way. It was one of the most striking characteristics of the
war that, however great the depression of the undisciplined mass, there
were always to be found a few indomitable spirits who were prepared to
sell their lives dearly to avert disgrace. We saw this at Poplar Grove,
when the opportunity for our mounted troops, if we consider the relative
numbers engaged, while making full allowance for the relative condition
of the horses, was far better than at Ladysmith. Botha himself, the
ablest of all the Boer leaders, had again and again in the last few
months proved his power to restore discipline and nerve among his
burghers. His rear-guard tactics, whatever the strength he might have
managed to raise, would in form have been those of Poplar Grove and of
his own resistance to Burn-Murdoch and Dundonald on the 28th. Something
more effective than French’s action at Poplar Grove, and more effective
than the action of Dundonald and Burn-Murdoch on the 28th, would have
been needed to secure results of really supreme importance. As for the
_arme blanche_, we need not regard it seriously as a contingent factor.
If it possessed any utility, it had in the course of the war innumerable
opportunities of proving the fact—above all, in cases of pursuit against
Boer rear-guards. We can scarcely draw negative evidence from occasions
where the opportunity was denied.[38]


Footnote 38:

  This, nevertheless, is precisely what Mr. Goldman does in a passage of
  his book, “With French in South Africa,” p. 422. His proposition,
  sufficiently bold in itself, is that the regular Cavalry were not
  given sufficient chances in South Africa, and he instances
  particularly Buller’s failure to use his Cavalry in pursuit at this
  period. By the use of the vague word “Cavalry” to cover all Buller’s
  mounted troops, the majority of whom were irregular mounted riflemen,
  Mr. Goldman introduces into a correct statement of fact the
  unwarrantable suggestion that the steel weapon, the distinguishing
  feature of Cavalry, was deprived of a chance of inflicting a “crushing
  defeat” on the enemy. It must be understood that Mr. Goldman, in the
  essay I am referring to, is engaged in an express effort to prove the
  superiority of Cavalry over mounted riflemen.


Buller has placed on record his reasons for not undertaking a
pursuit.[39] The only one that need concern us is, curiously enough, his
insistence on this very point—Boer skill in rear-guard actions—a skill
which he considered it so futile to combat, that, on this occasion, he
thought it not even advisable to try. And he bases his view on his own
experience in the first Boer War, twenty years before. The admission
throws much light on his handling of the mounted troops under his
command during the South African campaign, and, in particular, on his
dispositions during the battle of Pieter’s Hill. He had calculated
rightly on a victory that day, and, departing from the usual practice,
deliberately kept his mounted men fresh and concentrated in rear of the
army, in order to complete the victory by a pursuit. But the kind of
victory he hoped for was one which excluded the possibility of
rear-guard actions. In other words, he was a prey to that antiquated
habit of thought which was an inheritance from the days prior to the
magazine rifle, and which took shape in dreams of massed Cavalry on
fresh mounts, whirling, sabre in hand, at the psychological moment,
through hordes of helpless fugitives. Even in 1866 this habit of mind
was antiquated. It does not seem to have occurred to him, nor does it
seem to occur to some of the present advocates of the _arme blanche_,
that skill in rear-guard actions, often sneeringly alluded to as skill
in “evasion,” and always spoken of as if it were some miraculous
attribute of the Boers, was, in reality, the simple exercise, by the use
of horse and rifle combined, of one of the most important of the
functions of any corps of mounted troops, Cavalry included, especially
in the case of the numerically weaker side; and that its
counterpart—power to pierce a rear-guard, and drive home a victory, a
power correspondingly dependent on the use of horse and rifle
combined—is a no less crucial test of mounted efficiency. By these
tests, among others, Cavalry in future wars will be judged.


Footnote 39:

  War Commission Evidence, vol. ii., pp. 182, 183.


Defensive skill in the Boers suggests the allied question: Had they, in
the course of the long struggle for Ladysmith, shown any new development
of offensive power? That is a question we must always be asking, as we
contrast the merits of the steel weapon and the firearm in war. As I
have often before remarked, there can be no sharp distinction between
defensive and offensive action: excellence in the one is wrapped up with
excellence in the other. The British seizure of Spion Kop, for example,
was an aggressive stroke; the Boer counter-attack was a measure of
defensive necessity. Regarded in this light, Botha’s defence of the line
of the Tugela merits the highest praise. Make what allowance we will for
defects in British generalship, for the ever-present prejudice against
incurring heavy loss of life, and for the extraordinary natural strength
of the Tugela heights, the fact stands out plainly that no class of
troops but mounted riflemen, experts in horse, rifle, and spade
alike—and first-class men at that—could, with numbers comparatively so
small, have held for so long a position whose extent for purposes of
defence cannot be estimated at less than thirty miles. Neither European
Cavalry nor European Infantry of that date could have held it for a week
against a European force of all arms and of the given superiority—the
former from lack of spade and rifle power, the latter from lack of
mobility. But measuring the Boers by their own standard, did they fully
develop their own offensive potentialities?

The answer must be, I think, in the negative. But we cannot in this case
afford to be too sweeping or positive. We must remember, here as
elsewhere, that the dead-weight of numerical superiority, especially in
Artillery, gives a force of low mobility, like the British force, a
defensive power disproportionately greater than its offensive power.
Still, there were undoubtedly a few occasions when the Boers missed
opportunities for counter-strokes. By common consent, I think, the best
opportunity of all was on February 23 and 24, when the position of
Buller’s army, huddled together in Hart’s Hollow and other parts of the
Colenso basin, after the magnificent but unavailing assaults of the
23rd, was in the highest degree dangerous.[40] A casual outburst of Boer
fire on the night of the 24th actually caused a partial panic among the
troops in Hart’s Hollow. According to the German historian, who quotes a
German officer present with Botha at the time, Botha’s reason for not
ordering a counter-stroke on the 24th was that it would “cost too many
lives.” If so, it was a costly error, an irreparable error. But there
was much excuse for it. Moral administrative weaknesses, from which we
were free, had sapped their strength from the first, and among these
troops on the Tugela at this latter end of February, in spite of Botha’s
untiring efforts, the tension was becoming unbearable. We have only to
contrast the same man, leading tried veterans of the same commandos in
latter phases of the war, to understand the full aggressive power that
mounted riflemen can develop. Nevertheless, we must, as far as we can,
disentangle technical from moral causes, and it remains true that up to
this point the Boers had not brought into line the horse and the rifle
as the twin factors of aggressive mobility.


Footnote 40:

  “Official History,” vol. ii., chaps. xxvi. and xxvii.; _Times_
  History, chap. xvi.


The offensive honours rested with the British Infantry. I hope by this
time that the reader is beginning to realize how indefinable is the
border-line between mounted and dismounted attacks, both of which
equally draw their power from that master of modern battle-fields, the
rifle. Look at Wagon Hill, where soldiers classed as mounted riflemen
were engaged against soldiers classed as Infantry, mounted riflemen, and
Cavalry. Here is a case where one almost forgets which class had horses
and which had not. When we read of the memorable charge of the Devons,
we care very little whether they were Infantry or Mounted Infantry,
recognizing, as we must, that, in the given conditions, such efforts are
within the power of both classes alike. Our ambition should be to
discover how and when the horse may be made to serve as an engine of
still more formidable tactics. Look, too, at the Infantry charges on
February 23 and at the battle of Pieter’s Hill. Watch the old problem of
mobility versus vulnerability being worked out in terms of
foot-soldiers, and, without rushing to the impracticable extreme of
demanding that all riflemen should be provided with horses, observe how
close is the analogy when the same problem is worked out in terms of
horse-soldiers. Note how the German historian, from whom nothing will
force any compromising allusion to shock as a function of Cavalry, lest
the whole edifice of Cavalry theory should tumble about his ears, slips
unconsciously into the deprecation of “shock” in Infantry, without
sufficient fire-preparation.[41] But for those separate mental
compartments, would not some glimmering of the analogy have occurred to
him? Observe, on the other hand, the fundamental differences between the
steel weapon of the foot-soldier and the steel weapon of the Cavalry,
the efficacy of the former being conditional, not only on the vigour and
skill of the previous fire-fight, but on being used at the climax of the
fire-fight, still in association with the rifle, and still on foot; the
efficacy of the latter a minus quantity, and, for the same reason,
everywhere and always, because it was not only incompatible with, but by
the habits of mind it engendered, and by the nature of equipment it
involved, actively prejudicial to the vigorous offensive use of the


Footnote 41:

  Vol. ii., p. 270.


Grasp now the nature of the problem which confronted us in this war. Our
foes were not only riflemen, but mounted riflemen, comparatively few in
numbers, but able both to fight stoutly and to retreat safely when
overcome in combat. Infantry, though they possess the power to overcome
and eject mounted riflemen, have not the power to catch and destroy
them, simply because Infantry move too slowly. The responsibility for
securing complete victory lay with our mounted troops acting as mounted

Widening our horizon to include the whole area of the war at this
period, we perceive that the Cavalry theory, so far as it was based on
the _arme blanche_, had collapsed. The only and not especially
remarkable achievement of that weapon is the pursuit at Elandslaagte on
the second day of hostilities. Everywhere else we have seen it directly
or indirectly crippling the Cavalry, and the greater the numbers
employed and the larger the measure of independence permitted, the more
unmistakable is the cause. When the Cavalry succeed strategically, as in
the ride to Kimberley and back to Paardeberg, they succeed in spite of
disabilities traceable to _arme blanche_ doctrine. When they succeed
tactically, as in the Colesberg operations and in containing Cronje’s
force on the eve of Paardeberg, they succeed through the carbine, in
spite of its inferiority as a weapon of precision. In tactical offence,
the paramount _raison d’être_ of the _arme blanche_, and in
reconnaissance, they show marked weakness.

                               CHAPTER IX
                      BLOEMFONTEIN TO KOMATI POORT

                           I.—THE TRANSITION.

From the capture of Bloemfontein onwards, the nomenclature of mounted
troops in South Africa, except as a clue to their race, origin, and
professional or unprofessional character, ceases to possess practical
significance. There emerges a single military type—the mounted
rifleman—the man, that is, who can ride and shoot. Whether in
reconnaissance, tactics, or strategy, in defence or offence, in any
combination from a patrol to a commando, squadron, brigade, or division,
or as a single scout; be he Boer or Briton, the better he can ride, and
the better he can shoot, the better soldier he is.

In the British Army this unity of type soon becomes definitely
recognized in practice. Textbook regulations as to the duties
appropriate to different categories of mounted troops vanish like smoke
under the irresistible logic of experience. There soon ceases to be any
practical field distinction between regular Cavalry and regular Mounted
Infantry. Both alike must do the same duties, alike relying on the union
of firearm and the horse, and judged invariably by the same inexorable
and unvarying tests. So with the numerous other categories of mounted
corps, Home and Colonial, which from this time forward begin to exceed
in number the horsemen drawn from professional sources. Wide
distinctions, indeed, are constantly visible, and are constantly
recognized between the capacities of different corps according to their
country of origin, social class, length of experience, and physical and
moral characteristics, and, above all, according to the stamp of officer
they possess. But these are distinctions of degree, not of kind. The
ideal type never varies—that of the mounted rifleman.

But the practical recognition of an ideal is one thing, and its
whole-hearted assimilation another. For the bulk of the mounted troops,
given the will, the way was now plain. They had nothing positively to
unlearn if they had an infinite amount to learn. The regular Mounted
Infantry, indeed, and to a certain extent other classes, had still to
rid their minds of an idea that they were a tactical appanage of
Cavalry, but the possession of a firearm superior to that of Cavalry,
and the absence of any other weapon to confuse their tactical ideas,
made the path easy. The regular Cavalry, on the other hand, had still
something very substantial to unlearn, and that something was the
immemorial tradition of their branch of the service, the theory and
practice of the _arme blanche_. It would be idle to underrate the
magnitude of the requisite revolution, which primarily was one of
thought, rather than of action. Still, five months of fighting had
taught a lesson which could scarcely be mistaken, a lesson which at this
period of the war would have amply justified, if it did not render
imperative, the systematic and universal re-arming of the Cavalry with
the magazine rifle, and the return of all steel weapons to store. These
changes could not have been imposed upon the Cavalry from without, they
must have proceeded from within by the initiative of Cavalry leaders.
French alone, perhaps, had the authority and prestige to secure their
general adoption at this time; but in French the revolution of thought
had not taken place, indeed, never wholly took place, even at a later
period, when the necessary changes had been carried through. His very
strength and vitality tend, as always, to obscure the issue. He
continues to do much valuable and responsible work, and is always the
keenest of the keen for ambitious enterprises. But he cannot impress the
true Cavalry stamp upon the British operations, in the broadest sense of
the word “Cavalry.” Big strategical conceptions are useless without high
combative capacity in the troops employed, and that treasured tradition
of the arm had been weakened because it was not founded on the right

Without any strong new lead from above, conservatism naturally exerted
its full sway over the minds of the elder Brigadiers and regimental
officers. It was among some of the younger men, where habit was weaker
and enthusiasm stronger, that the new régime was warmly and sincerely
welcomed. These men were now finding their most fruitful sphere in the
leadership of irregular corps, where there was no tradition to combat,
and no weapon but the rifle.

The Cavalry, in spite of their unsuitable armament, continued to conform
to the new type—no other course was possible—but as a body they
conformed reluctantly and with a lack of imaginative zeal, thereby
gravely imperilling their chance of guiding and inspiring progressive
mounted action. In common with all other corps they improved greatly as
time went on, and always, as befitted their standing in the professional
army, set a good example of the prime soldierly virtues. Their staff
work, too, was a model to the rest of the army. But when we consider the
unique initial advantage they possessed in building on a broad and solid
foundation of drill, discipline, and _esprit de corps_, we are bound to
admit that the results are disappointing.

The need for vigorous mounted action, always urgent, was becoming daily
more urgent. With the relief of Ladysmith and the capture of
Bloemfontein, the march of conquest definitely begins. With it the
elements of strength and weakness in the Boer character and organization
begin to assume clearer shape. Two contrary streams of tendency declare
themselves: on the one hand, a progressive decline in corporate
strength; on the other, new and marked symptoms of individual vitality,
erratic, spasmodic, ephemeral, but of incalculable significance in
determining the nature and length of the struggle, the character of the
conquest, and the future political relations of the two belligerent

Of these two streams of tendency, the former, now and for six months to
come, was the stronger and more rapid. It was hastened naturally by the
overwhelming numerical superiority of the invaders at every threatened
point. What to defend? where concentrate? was the distracted cry. Under
this strain the old national fabric crumbled visibly, and although, by a
process which was scarcely perceptible to the superficial view, the
corrupt and diseased elements of the old body politic perished with it,
the immediate military results were fatal. It became increasingly
difficult for the Boers to maintain organized forces of any size in the
field. Only one so considerable even as Cronje’s at Magersfontein ever
appeared again. The opposition to our central march up the railway to
Pretoria, to Buller’s advance through Natal, and to the other parallel
movements, was made with miserably small forces. In the centre, before
Pretoria was reached, the Free Staters had parted from their comrades of
the sister State, and taken to local warfare. In June the Transvaalers
rallied well at the battle of Diamond Hill outside Pretoria; then there
was a reaction; then a revival, ending, after a creditable display of
resistance along the line of the Delagoa Railway, in the sudden and
apparently compete dissolution of the organized burgher forces on the
Portuguese border in mid-September.

Such, in a few words, is the main course of events. But in the vast and
thinly-peopled rural areas which constitute the great bulk of the
republican territories periodical disturbances delay the main British
advance. Amid the general wreck one Boer institution survives in its
integrity, the territorial military system, based on the obligation of
every individual citizen to serve in arms when called upon as a member
of his ward and commando. Centralized forces melt, only to reappear as
local bands inspired by a local patriotism, and summoned into sudden
activity at the call of some trusted leader. Through the chequered drama
flits the restless figure of Christian de Wet, the first Boer leader to
teach his countrymen the real meaning and potency of aggressive
mobility. Behind him is the sombre, passionate Steyn, and together these
two men are the incarnation of that stubborn national purpose which
often seemed to sleep, but which never died. All their efforts,
nevertheless, are apparently unavailing. Wherever bands, by accretion or
coalition, exceed a certain size, they succumb to the law of decay. The
great machine of invasion and occupation rolls slowly but irresistibly

Plainly, each fresh exhibition of weakness, and, _a fortiori_, each
fresh spasm of activity, on the part of the defence, should have been an
incentive to redoubled efforts on the part of the attack. I do not refer
so much to our national efforts in the shape of reinforcements, horses,
and the material of war; these flowed uninterruptedly and in enormous
volume from the home country and the Empire at large. I refer to field
efforts, and here again not so much to the higher strategy, which was
uniformly worthy of the great soldier who conceived and directed it, as
to that tactical fire and energy which alone could give us really
substantial victories over the men opposed to us, instead of such
limited successes as resulted in the occupation of towns, positions, and
railways, but left the heart and will of the foe daunted, indeed, and
depressed, but unsubdued. These crushing blows we never succeeded in
attaining. Paardeberg, the nearest approach to such a victory, was
robbed by the nine days’ investment of much of its moral value.
Prinsloo’s surrender in the Brandwater basin in July of the same year
produced as many prisoners as Paardeberg, but was marred by the escape
of De Wet and Steyn, with the most resolute elements of the Boer forces
present. Reviewing the combats of the period, we see one pattern of
action recurring again and again with monotonous regularity, although
with innumerable variations of local circumstance and personal
performance. A very inferior Boer force defends an immensely extensive
position; there are proportionately wide turning movements by our
mounted troops, which fall short in vigour and completeness; frontal
attacks by our Infantry; an action more or less prolonged; a Boer
retreat covered by a small, but extraordinarily efficient, rear-guard;
an ineffectual pursuit. The position is won, but the enemy has suffered
physically very little. A time comes later when positions count for
nothing, and men count for everything. Then earlier shortcomings bear
bitter fruit.

If I were to enter deeply into the psychological causes of this
instinctive relaxation of effort—for it was not a conscious process
traceable in orders and despatches—I should travel far beyond the limits
of my subject. In absolute strictness the psychology of the war is not
relevant to that subject. If the student were to observe an ideal sense
of mental proportion, distinguishing between the ardour inspired by a
particular weapon and the ardour inspired by racial and national
ambitions, there would be no need to stray beyond the purely technical
aspects of the subject with which I am dealing. I have recognized from
the beginning, however, that there are three objections to taking this
course: first, that the line in question is often exceedingly difficult
to draw; second, that in tracing and illustrating the development of
mounted tactics some reference to the deeper moral causes at work tends
greatly to elucidation; third, and most decisive reason, that one of the
most subtle and insidious methods of discrediting the rifle and
investing the _arme blanche_ with a kind of posthumous distinction, has
been to smother plain technical issues under hazy moralization. “Thought
waves” are in fashion. Now, let us insist by all means on the old
Napoleonic axiom that the moral forces in war count in the proportion of
three to one to the physical; but when we see one weapon palpably
outmatched by another let us recognize the fact as a fact. When we call
the war “peculiar,” from the peculiar moral factors underlying it, let
us not erase its technical lessons from our memory on the same ground. I
remarked an example of this perverse tendency in the official comments
on Poplar Grove, but Mr. Goldman is its most outspoken and sincere
exponent. He has honestly convinced himself that the Cavalry never had
any real chance of grappling with the enemy, and, consequently, no
chance of proving the pre-eminent value of the _arme blanche_.[42] The
picture he suggests is one of the Boers continually on the run, and
running so fast that the exhausted troopers can never catch them. Their
oxen, it would seem, run equally fast, or else take the most
unsportsmanlike course of beginning to retreat prematurely. These are
rear-guard actions, it is true, but these do not count. In some
mysterious way they “make pursuit all but impracticable.” The Boers, in
short, who “had no Cavalry in the proper and technical sense of the
word,” by their aggravating pusillanimity did not supply the “primary
conditions” for the “discharge (that is, on our side) of Cavalry
duties.” That we had an enormous preponderance of force, and that it is
the business of Cavalry to take advantage both of numerical and moral
weakness in the enemy, Mr. Goldman does not recognize. He altogether
ignores, too, that counter-current of offensive Boer activity which,
throughout the war, supplies us with the most interesting and
instructive examples of mounted tactics. But for the moment I need dwell
no longer on this version of a war which lasted for two and a half
years, cost us a heavy list of casualties and prisoners, and not a few
very sad disasters. It is an unconscious insult, not merely to the army
as a whole, but to the Cavalry, who did much excellent work as mounted
riflemen, and to the great body of irregular mounted troops, whose
existence Mr. Goldman appears to forget, and the best of whom surpassed
the Cavalry in aggressive action. That a serious writer can commit to
print, without qualification or reservation, the statement that the
Boers “invariably beat a hasty retreat when confronted by Cavalry that
could fight on horseback with carbine, lance, and sabre,” shows the
fantastic lengths to which the _arme blanche_ bias can carry those who
submit to it.


Footnote 42:

  See “With French in South Africa,” pp. 420–423, and 426, 427.


Faced, however, with the fact that such travesties are extant, a writer
on the _arme blanche_ is compelled to take at least a passing account of
moral factors. I need not spend any more words in proving that there
was, in fact, on our side a general mildness of effort. Nearly all
critics have agreed upon the fact. What were the causes?

1. About the deepest of all there is no dispute. Long years of peace and
civil prosperity had softened the national fibre. We were not only
unprepared for war, but forgetful of the grim meaning of war. In a
general reluctance to incur heavy losses the commanders only reflected
the national and social sentiment behind them.

2. Unfamiliar with wars in general, we were blind, above all, to the
meaning of this particular war, whose object was not only to defeat, but
to conquer, annex, and absorb a free white race. Since we became a
nation, we had never before attempted to achieve such an object, and we
did not realize its inherent difficulties. Signs of weakness in the
enemy encouraged the delusion that the war was an ordinary war, whose
events were to be estimated by ordinary standards. Signs of strength
were undervalued and misinterpreted. Lord Roberts, the soul of
generosity and humanity, after the fall of Bloemfontein, initiates an
exceedingly indulgent civil policy which defeats its own end. He is
compelled as time goes on to pass from the extreme of indulgence to the
extreme of severity. But in spite of this disagreeable necessity he is
always inclined to believe—and the whole army shares the feeling—that a
collapse is imminent, and that no absolutely supreme and sustained
efforts are required to hasten the end and seal the definitive triumph.

And what sort of triumph? The philosophic historian will discern that
momentous problem already formulating itself, not merely in the minds of
statesmen, but, dimly and inarticulately, in the minds of the army,
which embodied in an extraordinarily representative manner the civic
instincts of the British race. Did we really in our hearts desire such
crushing victories as would shatter the spirit of our opponents and lay
the foundation for a racial ascendancy, as opposed to a racial fusion,
in South Africa? The question becomes of absorbing practical interest in
later phases of the war, when the antagonistic schools of thought find
expression in two equally able and determined men. For the present it is
only a matter of conjecture how far a latent instinct of fraternity with
our foes and future fellow-citizens, now that Majuba was at last avenged
by Paardeberg and Pieter’s Hill, reacted on the vigour with which
hostilities were pressed.

3. A more simple and prosaic motive for caution was the very
well-founded respect entertained for the military capacity of the Boers.
The sense of some absolutely overwhelming necessity for decisive blows
would, doubtless, have gone far to neutralize caution, but this
conviction was not present. The reverses of the early months had left an
impression both on the popular mind and on the leaders in the field
which subsequent successes could not wholly obliterate. Fresh reverses,
on a smaller scale, were soon to mar the onward progress of success.
From this time forward every action, however feebly or strongly
contested, shows the Boers still highly formidable. Until the actual
_débâcle_ on the Portuguese frontier, there are no panics. Retreats are
orderly, transport and guns are preserved almost intact. However
dispirited the majority, there invariably reappears that manful minority
of stalwarts upon whose conduct, at one or another point, the difference
between repulse and defeat hangs. Numbers, indeed, almost cease to
count; quality is everything.

This resisting power, with its offensive counterpart, was derived, on
its military side, solely from skill and audacity in practice of the
mounted rifleman’s art. And here we return again to the solid ground of
our inquiry. Giving their due weight and proportion to the broader moral
factors which affected both sets of belligerents and, in our own army,
all branches of the service alike, we can see our technical issue
sharply and vividly defined in every phase and detail of hostilities.

Against a mounted enemy, even if his strategical mobility is conditioned
by heavy transport, in the last resort it is always to vigorous mounted
action that we must look both for the power to give effect to the
attacks of Infantry and Artillery and for retaliation against those
stinging little raids and counter-strokes which so often at critical
times turned the scale in the higher Boer counsels. Foot-riflemen will
never develop their full aggressive power against mounted riflemen
unless they are conscious that their efforts will lead to a decisive
issue through the correspondingly indispensable agency of mounted

                     II.—THE HALT AT BLOEMFONTEIN.

There was a pause of seven weeks in the British advance after the
capture of Bloemfontein. Reinforcements of all arms, remounts,
transport, supplies, were collected in great volume. The supply system
and hospital system were reformed, communications strengthened,
garrisons organized. During a large part of this period the mounted
troops in the central theatre were at little more than half their
effective strength from lack of horses.

One small forward movement only was made: that to Karee Siding,
twenty-seven miles north of Bloemfontein, a movement deemed necessary
for the purpose of safe-guarding the passage over the Modder at Glen.
Three thousand five hundred or 4,000 Boers with 8 guns held a line of
low hills astride of the railway, with a level plain behind them. French
and Tucker, who seem to have held a joint command, attacked with 9,000
men and 32 guns. Of the mounted troops present, 650 were regular
Cavalry, 880 regular Mounted Infantry and Colonials, numbers which
should have been sufficient to turn and hold the enemy effectually
enough to give the Infantry their full chance. In principle the Poplar
Grove tactics were employed, with variations of detail. The mounted
troops, riding well in advance, were to turn both hostile flanks, and,
when the Infantry attacks had been driven home, cut in upon the retreat.
The engagement was a dull example of the now too common type. Both
flanks were duly turned without opposition, and in good time (10 a.m.),
by the mounted troops, but then a sort of paralysis set in. The Cavalry
brigade, which was now somewhat behind the Boer right flank and within
eight miles of the railway, was inactive from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., though
still unopposed, while the Mounted Infantry on the Boer left were held
up by a small outlying detachment. Meanwhile the Infantry attacks,
spirited enough, though not very well directed, ran their course, the
Boers making a fairly steady stand, and yielding only between 3 p.m. and
4 p.m. to threats of the bayonet. But there was nothing to intercept or
hamper their retreat. Both mounted corps had eventually begun to move
on, but were checked by slight flank guards. Our casualties were 189,
almost entirely in the Infantry; those of the enemy 34.

This was emphatically a case where the professional mounted arm, which
was separately brigaded, should have set an example of vigour to the
younger and improvised corps. There seems, from the official and other
narratives, to have been no valid reason against attempting an
interception, though we must make allowance for the division in the
higher command which may have had ill-effects. Such inaction was very
unlike either French or Tucker. The poor condition of the horses is no

From Karee Siding (March 29) we turn to its anti-type, Sannah’s Post
(March 30). With the exception of De Wet’s raid on the main army’s
transport at Waterval, this was the first genuine feat of independent
aggression on the part of the Boers which the war had as yet produced.
The same leader was again the guiding spirit, and he began a career of
aggression just when most of his countrymen were thinking more of
surrender than resistance, and in several districts were actually
handing in their arms.

De Wet, with 1,500 men and 7 guns, made a swift and secret expedition
against the Waterworks, twenty-one miles due east of Bloemfontein, and
then in British hands. Arriving within striking distance on the evening
of March 29, he learnt that there was bigger game afoot, in the shape of
an independent British force under Broadwood, who was retiring westward
before a greatly superior force of Free Staters under Olivier and
others. Broadwood was safely ahead, however, and his pursuers do not
come into the story. De Wet resolved to ambush him and to that end
posted 400 men in the bed of the Korn Spruit, which Broadwood would have
to cross, and the rest, under his brother Piet, three miles away behind
the British camp, on the high ground bordering the Modder River.

Broadwood’s was an exclusively mounted force, numbering 1,700, with 12
Horse Artillery guns. There were two regiments of regular Cavalry,
together only 330 strong, and Alderson’s brigade of mounted riflemen,
850 strong, and composed of regular Mounted Infantry and Colonial
riflemen. In fact, it was a typical mixed force of all the various
classes of mounted troops then in the field. The gist of the story is
well known. Breaking camp early on the 30th, without prior
reconnaissance of the ground before them, the head of the transport and
one of the two batteries marched into the ambush, and were captured. “Q”
battery managed to escape, with the loss of a gun and many men. Piet de
Wet meanwhile began his attack upon the rear, though as yet only with
stationary fire upon the troops holding the Modder drifts. Broadwood
acted with coolness and resolution. While the greater part of Alderson’s
brigade kept Piet de Wet in check, the regular Cavalry and two companies
of Mounted Infantry were sent across the Korn Spruit to take the 400
Boers who lined it in reverse. Dangerous as Broadwood’s own position
was, the position of those Boers was for some little time almost equally
dangerous. They were separated by three miles and by the Modder River
from their main body, which, moreover, was being briskly engaged by the
Mounted Infantry. Cramped in their narrow gully, they were being
attacked in front by the five guns of “Q” battery, and threatened in
flank and rear from rising ground which overlooked the spruit by the
superior force of Cavalry and Mounted Infantry. They had no guns, and
were much weakened in numbers by the detachment of the necessary guards
for the captured British guns and waggons.

As the Official Historian remarks, everything depended on the execution
of the Cavalry turning movement. But again the paralysis sets in, as at
Dronfield, Poplar Grove, and Karee Siding—a paralysis not due in the
remotest degree to moral weakness, and certainly not in this case to
weak horseflesh. There is nothing that we need talk about with bated
breath or tactful reticence: neither our men nor their officers were to
blame—only the habits and disabilities imposed by an obsolete weapon. A
party of riflemen thrown out by De Wet from the spruit brought the
attack to a standstill.

Disappointed on this side, Broadwood had no other course than to order a
retreat of Alderson’s Mounted Infantry and the guns from the other side
of the spruit (10.30 a.m.). As in so many similar actions in South
Africa, everything hinged on the extrication of a badly crippled
battery. The rescue of “Q” by the heroism of its own gunners and its
mounted escort forms a brilliant little episode by itself. When the guns
were out of immediate danger, the general retreat began. Piet de Wet’s
men instantly poured across the Modder drifts and pursued hotly. The
behaviour of Alderson’s brigade—Colonials and Englishmen alike—in this
their first defensive engagement was very steady, though they suffered
greatly from inexperience in manœuvre and fire. The retirement,
conducted by successive movements of units, was orderly and cool, New
Zealanders and Englishmen in combination having the honour of
constituting the ultimate rear-guard. Eventually Broadwood’s force was
concentrated safely on the farther side of the Spruit, having lost seven
guns, most of its transport, and a third of its strength in casualties
and prisoners.

Broadwood should have received help from other forces in the
neighbourhood, including some Mounted Infantry, who were very feebly
handled; but there is no need to enter into that lengthy and
controversial topic.

We have to note certain points of interest:

1. _The Boer Pursuit._—Except for the Stormberg case three months back,
this was the first example of a Boer mounted pursuit. All narratives
agree in saying that it frequently took the form of charging on
horseback up to close quarters, accompanied in some instances by a
wholly new practice—_fire from the saddle_. Sometimes the burghers
dismounted, and, with the rein over the arm, fired. Here we see the germ
of important later developments. A year afterwards De la Rey or Kemp in
similar circumstances would have used the same methods with more system
and audacity.

2. Conversely, and again with the exception of Stormberg, this was the
first example of a really critical rear-guard action for British mounted
troops. We note remarkable proofs of improvement in general efficiency,
together with several faults: indifferent marksmanship; lack of
adroitness in the handling of led horses; lack of judgment in deciding
upon the right moment to retire (several detachments were cut off
through holding on too long); and a general insufficiency of that
individual skirmishing capacity which enabled the Boers in similar
predicaments to make one skilled man go as far as five unskilled men.

3. The contrast between the _arme blanche_ and the rifle is unusually
marked. Nomenclature is immaterial. All the work on the field was
Cavalry work, not only in the broad sense of the term, but by the
regular Cavalry’s standards. In essence, De Wet’s intercepting ambush in
the Korn Spruit was the same kind of work as that done by the Cavalry
themselves on the day before Paardeberg, and the same as that which they
should have tried to do at Karee Siding. The projected, but abortive,
counter-stroke upon the ambuscaders was Cavalry work. Piet de Wet’s rear
attack and pursuit, and Alderson’s resistance to them, were both Cavalry
work. The terrain was open.

We may add that De Wet’s whole enterprise and the rapidity, secrecy, and
nerve with which he carried it out were a good example of the true
Cavalry spirit. Whether we call De Wet a “partisan” or not makes no
difference. If his good qualities constitute partisanship, every Cavalry
officer, from the highest to the lowest, should be a partisan.

4. The absence of reconnaissance on the morning of the battle needs no
comment. There were some exceptional reasons, which I need not go into,
for a relaxation of normal precautions, but no valid excuse.

De Wet, in his characteristically impulsive style, wasted no time after
his victory, but dashed off south, and on April 4 snapped up a post of
600 men at Reddersburg. Then, instead of raiding the communications of
the main army, which would undoubtedly have been his best course, he
succumbed to the Boer craving for sieges, and wasted more than a
fortnight in investing Wepener with a force which increased to more than
7,000 men. Wepener, defended by 1,900 men, who were mainly mounted
troops belonging to Brabant’s Colonial Force, made an excellent and
successful defence until relieved by Hart and Brabant himself.

De Wet’s activity, however, had changed the whole military situation.
The south-eastern Free Staters were up in arms to the estimated number
of 10,000, and Roberts was compelled before proceeding farther to clear
this flank. His design, however, was not merely to clear it, but to make
the relief of Wepener the starting-point for an enveloping movement of
great magnitude, and with overwhelming force. Three Infantry divisions
joined directly or indirectly in the operations and large numbers of
mounted men of all classes. First came some ill-knit and overcautious
preliminary operations, which I need not describe; then French, with an
Infantry division and two Cavalry brigades immediately under his hand,
assumed general control over the British forces from April 22 onwards.

The critical day was April 24, when he endeavoured to surround and crush
a force of 6,000 Boers posted near Dewetsdorp. The scheme on that day,
as French planned it, was in general form a repetition of the Poplar
Grove and Karee Siding schemes, and was made to hinge on the
intercepting action of the two Cavalry brigades upon the Boer line of
retreat. Inevitably, and from the same unvarying cause, the intercepting
movement came to nothing, the Cavalry being easily checked by small Boer
parties. Again and again, in reading of such incidents, we feel how
unfair it was to brave men to have given them an armament and training
which prevented them from showing their best qualities.

In the course of the earlier operations detachments of the newly-raised
Yeomanry, brigaded under Rundle, were for the first time in action. They
did tolerably well, considering their rawness and inexperience, and I
think it is generally agreed that Rundle, in his original attack upon
Dewetsdorp on April 20, with a greatly superior force, might have relied
somewhat more on their aid, in association with his other mounted

De Wet now ordered a general retreat north of all the south-eastern Free
Staters. By the end of April that portion of the country was wholly in
British hands, and on May 3 Roberts was able to begin the grand advance
for which he had been so long preparing.

                     III.—THE ADVANCE TO PRETORIA.

When that advance began there were in round numbers 200,000 British
troops in South Africa, of whom 50,000 were on the lines of
communications. With a moderate allowance for absenteeism, there were
30,000 Boers in the field, including the 2,000 besiegers of Mafeking.

Our particular concern is with the British mounted troops, which had
been remounted, reorganized, and largely increased in number. An
additional regular Cavalry brigade joined the central army under
Roberts; fresh battalions of regular Mounted Infantry, suffering from a
serious scarcity of officers, were hastily formed, and fresh contingents
of Colonial troops, both from overseas and within South Africa,
continued to come into line. Half the Imperial Yeomanry—between 4,000
and 5,000 men, that is—were available at the beginning of May, and the
whole force of 10,000 was before very long in the field.

For administrative purposes, Cavalry and mounted riflemen, hitherto
associated together, were now separated. For the central army a division
of four brigades of regular Cavalry, about 5,000 sabres strong (without
counting Horse Artillery) was formed;[43] and at the same time the
mounted riflemen were organized anew in one big division, 11,000 strong,
divided into two brigades of four corps each, each corps being composed
jointly of regular Mounted Infantry and Colonial mounted riflemen.
Neither of these organizations proved to be permanent. The latter was
from the first little more than nominal. In order to supply the mounted
needs of the army at large, as time went on units had to be broken up
and distributed where they were most required. The Yeomanry, similarly,
were never employed as a divisional unit, but only in detachments.


Footnote 43:

  Two Australian detachments were included in one of the brigades.


Brabant’s Colonial Defence Force was now at its full strength of 3,000,
and Buller, in Natal, though he had had to part with the Imperial Light
Horse, who were sent round with Hunter’s Division to Kimberley,
possessed, owing to the union of the Tugela and Ladysmith armies,
between 5,000 and 6,000 mounted men, divided into three brigades, two of
them homogeneous Cavalry units of three regiments apiece, the third
composed of South African mounted riflemen.

In the far west of the theatre of war the Kimberley mounted troops were
now available for active work, and in the north-west Plumer, with some
750 mounted Colonials, was still conducting his clever and plucky
operations for the assistance of Mafeking and the security of the
Rhodesian border. In the far north the Rhodesian Field Force, some 4,000
strong, mainly consisting of Australasian mounted riflemen and partly of
Yeomanry, was on its way westward from Beira, under Carrington.
Strathcona’s Horse, a new Canadian corps, 500 strong, had been detached
on an abortive scheme for raiding the Delagoa Bay Railway via Lourenço

To sum up, if we compute the Yeomanry at their full strength, but
exclude from the calculation the garrison of Mafeking and various small
detachments doing duty on the communications or in process of formation
into regiments, there were at this period in the field nearly 40,000
mounted men, of whom about 8,300 were Cavalry, still armed with carbine
and lance or sword, and the rest, in the generic sense, mounted
riflemen. Numerically, therefore, our mounted strength, viewed apart
from the great masses of Infantry and Artillery, was greater by several
thousand than the Boer strength actually in the field, even if we deduct
half the Yeomanry as not yet fully available. But I need scarcely again
warn the reader that such comparisons, for many obvious reasons, must be
used with caution. In one quarter, however—the centre—our preponderance
in mounted strength alone over the Boers opposed to us was very

The Commander-in-Chief’s strategical scheme was of great simplicity and
enormous magnitude. On a front of 300 miles, 109,000 men (I am using
round numbers), with 350 guns, were to execute converging marches
northward, with Pretoria as the central objective. On the extreme right,
Buller, with 45,000 men, was to march through Natal; on the extreme
left, Hunter, starting from Kimberley with 10,000 men, was to penetrate
the Western Transvaal, and, incidentally, to relieve Mafeking. Methuen,
starting with another 10,000 from the same point, was to march through
the Western Free State. Lord Roberts, in the centre, with 25,000 men,
was to move directly up the railway from Bloemfontein; while immediately
on his right flank Ian Hamilton, with 14,500 men, supported by Colvile
with 4,000 men, moved through the Eastern Free State.

Such was the plan of the grand advance. The principal subsidiary
field-force was that of Rundle and Brabant, who were to follow slowly
through the Eastern Free State, which was the most formidable region of
all, sweeping up arrears, and making good the ground won. Warren, with
2,000 men, was to quell the rebellion in Bechuanaland; and Carrington
was designed to co-operate from the far north, moving through Rhodesia
upon the Northern Transvaal.

The distribution of mounted troops was as follows: Exclusive of
Artillery corps, troops, etc., there were with Roberts and the central
army four and a half corps, in all 3,600 strong, of mounted riflemen,
and three brigades of Cavalry under French, also 3,600 strong. These
three brigades, however, did not come into line until May 8, five days
after the beginning of the advance. Having been employed almost
continuously since the capture of Bloemfontein, and having received only
small instalments of fresh horses, they had to spend the first days of
May in a thorough refit. Their Horse Artillery had been wisely reduced
to one battery for each brigade. The remaining brigade of Cavalry, under
Broadwood, and the four remaining corps of mounted riflemen—1,400 and
4,300 strong respectively—were with Ian Hamilton. Buller’s mounted
troops I have mentioned. Hunter’s were the Imperial Light Horse and the
Kimberley corps. The Yeomanry were distributed between Methuen, Warren,
Carrington, and Rundle, with the latter of whom Brabant’s Colonial
division was acting.

There is no need, even if my space permitted, to follow with any
closeness the fortunes of the grand advance. I have now reached a point
in the war where it is necessary only to summarize events, to select
from a vast number of operations conducted over a vast expanse of
territory, typically interesting examples of mounted action, and along
with the process of selection to trace the growth of principles.

The most interesting, naturally, of all the operations of that period
were those of the two central columns under Roberts and Ian Hamilton,
which from May 3 onwards[44] worked in close combination, and may be
regarded as one force, nearly 40,000 strong, with 119 guns, exclusive of
Colvile’s supporting column. It will have been noticed that they were
far stronger in mounted troops than any other portion of the army.
Indeed, at the lowest computation of their effective mounted strengths,
and at the highest estimate of the Boer effectives from time to time
opposed to them, it appears that Roberts and Hamilton together must at
every stage in the advance have had a decisive superiority in mounted
troops alone over the whole force of their opponents. Until May 8, when
French’s three brigades of Cavalry came up, not more than 5,500 Boers in
all opposed both columns, which at that time had 9,200 mounted men
between them. At the Zand River fight on May 9 and 10 the Boers,
reinforced by 3,000 Transvaalers under Botha, who thenceforth took over
the supreme control from De la Rey, reached their highest numerical
fighting strength of about 8,000. At the same moment, reinforced by
French’s Cavalry, our own mounted strength also reached its highest
point of nearly 13,000.[45] After this, and until the fall of Pretoria,
the enemy never appear to have mustered more than 5,000 men in
opposition to the combined columns; for the Free State forces withdrew
altogether before crossing the Vaal, and betook themselves to local
warfare. At Diamond Hill four fresh Transvaal commandos from Natal
counterbalanced other defections, and enabled Botha to put 6,000 men
into the field. Here, for the first time, our mounted strength in action
(a little below 5,000) was below the total Boer strength. This was
partly the result of wastage in horses. All along our mounted troops
suffered heavily from this cause, and the same cause affected the Boers
also, though not in anything like an equal degree. Botha, in his
despatches at this time, used habitually to refer to his “Infantry,”
meaning the burghers who had lost their mounts.[46]


Footnote 44:

  Hamilton had begun his fighting on April 30, at Houtnek, where he
  dislodged Philip Botha from a strong position, though without
  inflicting any appreciable loss.

Footnote 45:

  I am reckoning French’s three brigades at the figure of 3,600 given in
  the Appendix to the “Official History.” In the text they are said to
  have numbered 4,500 “sabres,” plus Artillery. This would make the
  total nearly 14,000.

Footnote 46:

  “Official History,” vol. iii., p. 72.


I need not dwell on the significance of these figures. If we dismiss
from our minds the existence of an irresistible backing of Infantry and
Artillery on our side, it is quite possible, and from an instructional
standpoint very interesting, to contemplate _in vacuo_ the conflict of
the two opposed mounted forces, supposing them, if we will, to have been
the mounted screens of two great European armies. Even on that
restricted plane the inquiry teems with absorbing practical interest for
future wars, and abounds in illustration of the functions of the mounted
arm. But I need not remind the reader that in actual fact here was no
matter of screens. The Boer troops were small armies in themselves,
depending on and limited strategically by the speed of heavy transport,
for which they were the sole protection. Our own mounted troops—or, at
least, the bulk of them—cannot be regarded otherwise than as an
independent mobile weapon of high general utility, whose mission it was
in concert with the other arms to secure the destruction, not merely the
repulse, of the enemy.

This is how Lord Roberts had always regarded his mounted troops. Ever
since the middle of February he had called upon them, and particularly
upon the Cavalry, for decisive efforts, but only once with decisive
results. Disillusioned gradually, he continued, nevertheless, to pursue
the same policy wherever, during the long march to Pretoria, opportunity
offered. He inculcated the right spirit. So did Ian Hamilton, so did
French; and both these Generals were endowed with a large measure of
independence. The trouble was that in actual contact on the field the
superiority in fighting power of the individual Boer to the individual
Britisher invariably caused the best-laid plans to fall short of the
desired achievement. A continual instigation of more dashing, if more
costly, tactics might have schooled the troops rapidly to higher
efficiency, but, as I indicated in dealing with the moral issue, the
supreme stimulus to such a policy was wanting. Victory in the medium
degree was only too easy, thanks to weight of numbers. Roberts himself
appears gradually to have expected less and asked less of his mounted

Let us first of all summarize what happened. Starting on May 3, Roberts
took Pretoria on June 5. He had marched 300 miles in thirty-four days,
sixteen of which (for the central column) were marching days. Hamilton,
who midway made a détour to the east, marched a good deal farther. Let
us not forget that, whatever its shortcomings, this march, regarded as a
military feat, was a very remarkable and memorable performance,
especially for the Infantry. At Brandfort and the Vet River (May 3 to 5)
the Boers made but a very slight stand; at Zand River (May 9 to 10) they
offered battle, and were out-manœuvred into retreat. At Kroonstad,
which was not defended, Roberts halted for ten days (May 12 to 22). The
Vaal was crossed without opposition on the 24th, and from May 27 to 29
Botha made his most resolute stand on the hills covering
Johannesburg—namely, the Klipriviersberg and Doornkop. Here on the 29th
there was something in the nature of a pitched battle, Doornkop being
finally stormed by Infantry. Hitherto this arm had come into action only
at Zand River. On the 30th Johannesburg fell, and Pretoria, which was
not seriously defended, shared the same fate on June 5.

To this record we must add the battle of Diamond Hill, fought sixteen
miles from Pretoria on June 11 and 12, with the object of finally
driving Botha away from the neighbourhood of the capital. It was a
genuine pitched battle, in which Roberts achieved his object, though he
inflicted no loss of any consequence upon the enemy, and suffered little

The Boers had lost their capital and railway, but their losses in men
and material were negligible.

Now let us look for mounted lessons.

The first and clearest is that it is useless for a superior force to
confine itself to combating the wide extensions of an inferior force by
still wider extensions. This is what was constantly happening. The Boer
fronts, in proportion to the numbers employed to defend them, were, as
usual, enormously extensive. At Brandfort, for example, De la Rey
occupied a front of some fifteen miles with 2,500 men; at Zand River
Botha stood on a front of twenty-five miles—half the distance from
London to Brighton—with 8,000 men; at the fighting outside Johannesburg
he held eighteen miles of hilly country with about 4,000 men. Outside
Pretoria an equally extensive front was held, though very weakly.
Finally, at Diamond Hill, Botha held thirty miles with only 6,000 men
during two days of continuous fighting. Here, however, the position was
unusually strong. Let us note in passing:

(1) The proof afforded by these greatly extended positions of the
revolutionary effect of the modern rifle upon mounted tactics, for it
was only by the close union of the rifle and the horse that such
dispositions were possible.

(2) That, given this close union, no ordinary skill is required to
choose the cardinal points of defence, and maintain the field discipline
and field intelligence requisite for the elastic and orderly handling of
detachments so widely dispersed. No narrative that I have seen does full
justice to the Boers for their efficiency in these particulars. In the
whole course of these operations, and in the whole course of the
subsequent advance from Pretoria to Komati Poort, only one small
detachment was cut off and overwhelmed.

(3) That the Boer system admitted of no reserves. Practically every man
was in the front fighting-line.

Now, how were these tactics to be met? Roberts nearly always endeavoured
to meet them by still wider extensions, designed to overlap the enemy’s
front. He planned to throw substantial bodies of mounted troops right
round one or both of the hostile flanks, with the view (as at Poplar
Grove) of intercepting the enemy’s retreat. These movements never led to
interception, though they were generally successful as turning movements
which led to the enemy’s retreat—a very minor object. On the other hand,
they were exhausting to horses and men alike, reducing offensive power
when, after long riding, it was at last called for, to a point below the
normal, and the normal was not nearly high enough.

Zand River (May 9 and 10) illustrates this class of action. There, 4,000
mounted men under French and Hutton on the left, and 3,000 under
Broadwood and De Lisle on the right, were deputed to get round both
flanks of a front of twenty-five miles, held by 8,000 Boers. French,
having passed six miles outside the last Boer post on the 9th, got well
round to the rear on the 10th, with his Cavalry leading and his mounted
riflemen in support, but was then held up for several hours by small
detachments, and suffered considerable loss. He covered thirty miles on
the 10th, and could not, owing to the condition of his horses, respond
on the same night to a suggestion by Roberts for raiding Kroonstad.
Broadwood’s turning movement was abortive, partly through an accidental
withdrawal of his horse battery, but mainly through the circumstance
that the Boer left (wide as Hamilton’s extension was) still overlapped
our right, and that the overlapping portion, not content to remain on
the defensive, endeavoured during the morning to envelop our extreme
right. Botha effected an orderly retreat, his centre maintaining a good
show of resistance against the Infantry and Artillery attacks. With our
main body there was a brigade of Cavalry and considerable numbers of
mounted riflemen.

Diamond Hill, where Botha defended thirty miles of hills, was a still
more extreme instance of the same method. French, with 1,400 Cavalry and
mounted riflemen, was designed to ride right round the enemy’s right,
and cut the railway in his rear—a ride of at least thirty-five miles,
without any allowance for interruptions or détours. Broadwood, with
3,000 men, was to turn the enemy’s left and support our right attack.
The centre was to be withheld until one or both of these movements
should succeed. Botha had anticipated these tactics and had strengthened
his flanks accordingly. Both mounted columns were held up, and stood for
a time in considerable danger of envelopment. On the second day the
centre was forced by Infantry, aided, and very effectively aided, by
mounted riflemen.

It must be remarked that our total strength at Diamond Hill was
unusually small—14,000 men in all, of whom 4,800 were mounted, and 64
guns. The Boers had 6,000 men and 20 guns.

Now, there is but one way of looking at situations of this sort. If we
are seeking instruction for further wars, we must recognize that the
only sound method of combating such prodigiously wide extensions of a
numerically weak enemy is to force his line instead of turning it. To
devote the major effort to turning it is to play into his hands, to
permit him by sheer bluff to impose exhausting tactics which neutralize
your own numerical superiority.[47] The difficulty was to apply forcing
tactics against so formidable a foe as the Boers. Our crying need all
along was tackling power with the horse and rifle combined—high, mobile
tackling power, based on surprise and speed, and taking the form, where
need be, of mounted charges into or through the enemy, on the lines
afterwards taught us by the Boers, and already exhibited by them at
Sannah’s Post. Again and again, in reviewing the South African combats,
we look back to the Klip Drift charge of February 15, 1900, with
profound regret that its true lessons were not laid to heart and its
false lessons discarded. There was the germ of success. Add operative
tackling power to the nerve required to ride through fire, eliminate the
_arme blanche_ and every last vestige of tactical theory connected with
it; eliminate as far as possible Artillery preparation and support; be
content with a reasonable superiority of strength, and there you have
for future wars the true tactics of mounted offence.


Footnote 47:

  Bernhardi utters a wholesome warning on this subject in his “Cavalry
  in Future Wars” (p. 54), and advocates direct fire-action. “Cavalry
  Training,” if it could reach the point of regarding mounted riflemen
  as “Cavalry,” would, of course, do the same, and thereby refute the
  theory of the inevitable “shock duel” between opposing Cavalries.


It is impossible to blame Roberts for over-reliance on wide turning
tactics. In the last resort, whatever the scheme employed, whether we
rode wide or rode through, success depended on sheer fighting capacity
in the ultimate fire-fight. Nothing could replace that. Roberts could
only endeavour to make the best of the material to hand. His frequent
attempts to encircle far-flung fronts were an instinctive recognition of
inadequate aggressive power in his mounted troops. The prejudice, so
general in South Africa, against “frontal attacks” by Infantry was often
a reflection of the same instinct, that is, of an instinct to avoid
heavy losses which could not, unaided, lead to a decisive result. In
point of fact, all attacks eventually become frontal, in the local
sense. And, in the case of mounted troops, it was of no avail to send
round a large body of men to take the enemy in flank or rear, unless
they were able to burst through frontally the detachments sent against

Still less tenable is the suggestion that the right course for Roberts
was to have projected still vaster and more circuitous mounted
operations, designed to cut the enemy’s communications far in rear of
the zone of immediate hostilities. French is said to have favoured this
course more than once, but did he realize what it involved? If the
requisite speed were sustained, the horses, already tried to the limit
of endurance, would have suffered from that very over-exhaustion of
which there had been so much complaint in the past. But, in fact, such
raids, on the scale of those made by Stuart, Wilson, and the Civil War
leaders, entailed complete independence of the main army, an object
never attained in South Africa without transport arrangements which
reduced speed to too low a level. The question, of course, was not
peculiarly a “Cavalry” question—for raids, American, South African, or
Manchurian, turned exclusively on fire-action. I shall be compelled,
nevertheless, to argue the matter again, in Chapter XII., on a “Cavalry”
basis, taking Zand River once more as an illustration.

2. It must not be supposed that frontal or semi-frontal attacks were not
tried by the mounted troops. Local circumstances often brought them
about. Generally, however, they tended, even locally, to take a too
circuitous form, the tendency, inevitably, being more noticeable among
the Cavalry, with their inferior firearm, than among the mounted

These latter troops, now possessing an acknowledged and independent
status of their own, and led by some able men like Hutton, Alderson, and
De Lisle, did remarkably well in some instances, though poorly in
others. The Australians and New Zealanders seem always to have shown the
most tactical vigour. Hutton’s fight on May 5 to secure the passage of
the Vet on the left of the main army was a good performance. The mounted
riflemen did well also in the pursuit north of Johannesburg on May 30,
in the fighting outside Pretoria on June 5, at Diamond Hill on June 12,
and on several other occasions.

French’s operations outside Johannesburg on May 28 and 29, when, prior
to the arrival of the Infantry, both classes of mounted troops were
employed in unison, are interesting. French was in his best mood. There
was no lack of vigorous will on the spot, but the turning movements by
the Cavalry (except the last, which followed the Infantry assaults), and
the frontal attacks by both classes, alike failed. There would seem on
this occasion to have been a good opportunity for a rush through the
centre on the lines of Klip Drift.

3. _Charges._—The only actual charge _upon a position_, to which I can
find reference, is that of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles on May 24, at
the passage of the Vaal (_Times_ History, vol. iv., p. 136, footnote).

Two small cases occur of charges in the open with the _arme
blanche_—namely, at Diamond Hill, on June 11, where, in some indecisive
fighting on the right, sixty men of the 12th Lancers made a gallant
charge against some Boers who were threatening two of our guns, and at
the same time the Household Cavalry endeavoured to ride down another
detachment. The lance disposed of a few Boers in the former case, but
the enemy retaliated as successfully with fire. In the latter case the
Cavalry drove the Boers away, but caught only one, and lost twenty-one
horses from rifle-fire, many burghers dropping down among the mealies
and shooting at the troopers as they passed, in the manner recommended
in our own handbook, “Infantry Training.” The two incidents were
momentary episodes in two days of fire-action, and serve merely to
emphasize the inferiority of a weapon with a range of two yards to a
long-range firearm.

4. _Pursuits._—There were no really “general” pursuits. The best local
pursuit was that of Hutton’s Australasians on May 30, at Klipfontein
(“Official History,” vol. iii., p. 90), where a gun was captured. The
Boer talent—not exactly for pursuit, but for pressing hard upon a
rear-guard—was strikingly displayed in the course of Ian Hamilton’s
evacuation of Lindley, whither he had been sent during the general halt
at Kroonstad. We may call these guerilla tactics; but they have not a
whit less real tactical interest on that account.

5. _Horse-wastage._—With full allowance for the poor quality of
remounts, this was too extravagant. It seems to have been greatest among
the Cavalry, whose average waste between May 19 and June 9 was over 30
per cent., than among the mounted riflemen, whose average, for the same
period, was 18 per cent.[48] Apart from that difficult question of
overloading, and from defective horse-management, which seems to have
been universal among our mounted troops, this difference in loss of
horses was probably the result of longer distances ridden by the
Cavalry. In the whole of this question we have to recognize, in the case
of all mounted troops, the close relation between horse-wastage and
deficiency in aggressive tactical power, a deficiency which, as I
pointed out above, was the real, though, perhaps, not the consciously
thought-out reason for the immense encircling movements which were so
often being attempted. It will be the same in future wars. The higher
the direct tackling power, the lower the average horse-wastage.


Footnote 48:

  No complete figures exist. The “Official History” ignores the subject.
  I take these figures from the _Times_ historian, who quotes from
  calculations made by one of Roberts’s staff (see vol. iv., p. 162).


By the middle of June, when Pretoria had fallen to the central armies
and Diamond Hill had been fought, every other column composing the grand
advance had, to all appearances, successfully accomplished its object.
Buller had traversed Natal and entered the Transvaal. Methuen had
traversed the Western Free State. Hunter had relieved Mafeking, and had
occupied towns in the Western Transvaal as far north as the meridian of
Pretoria. Warren, too, had disposed of the rebels in Griqualand West.
Both Cape Colony and Natal were cleared of the enemy. The Free State had
been annexed.

Buller had scarcely made any use of his six regiments of regular
Cavalry, and had even left them at Ladysmith during the first phase of
his advance over the Biggarsberg. His action was partly due, no doubt,
to that old fatalistic prejudice against pursuits, which, in his mind,
we must assume, were associated so closely with the _arme blanche_ that
he did not think it worth while even to give the Cavalry a fair chance
of developing other methods. The error was all the less justifiable in
that the Natal army, nearly 45,000 strong, and the largest in the field
of war, was disproportionately weak in mounted troops. The irregular
mounted brigade, about 3,000 strong, under Dundonald, together with
Bethune’s Mounted Infantry, about 600 strong, took a prominent part in
all the actions, and did very well. Eight thousand Boers faced Buller
originally on the Biggarsberg, but they must have dwindled to something
like half that number in the later stages of the advance. No especial
points of mounted interest, not alluded to already, arose in these
operations, which, from a tactical standpoint, were often very cleverly
and ably conducted, although from the strategical standpoint they were
too slow and unenterprising. I need not enter into the long story of
Buller’s two months’ inaction after the relief of Ladysmith, and of his
repeated failures to rise to the height of the Commander-in-Chief’s
conceptions for the strategic rôle of the powerful Natal army.

In the western sphere of advance, there are two principal points of

1. The good behaviour of the new Yeomanry under both Methuen and Warren;
for example, at Tweefontein (April 5), and, in defence, at Faber’s Put
(May 29), though on the latter occasion we have to recognize an early
instance of that lax and careless outpost work which so often
characterized the Yeomanry and other irregular corps.

2. The relief of Mafeking. This, although not a dramatic, was none the
less a very skilful and able performance, carried out by Colonel Mahon,
with a small column of 900 mounted irregulars (Imperial Light Horse and
Kimberley men), 100 picked Infantry, and 6 guns. Starting from Barkley
West on May 4, Mahon marched 251 miles in 14 days (an average of 18
miles a day), through a badly-watered region, with two fairly hot
engagements _en route_. Hunter, with his main body, rendered skilful
support by distracting the attention of the Boers in the neighbourhood,
and, in the final phase, Plumer, who for many months had been tirelessly
worrying the besiegers, co-operated with Mahon. On the penultimate day
of the march, May 16, De la Rey and Liebenberg managed to bar the road
with 2,000 men, a force about equal to those of Mahon and Plumer
together, but were driven off after a spirited action. In expense of
horse-flesh, which was small, and in tackling power in proportion to
numbers, the whole expedition compared favourably with the relief of
Kimberley by the Cavalry. It must be remarked that, mobile as Mahon’s
force was, it included 100 Infantry and 55 mule-waggons.

In the meantime the guerilla war—and by that expression I mean all
hostilities which were not directly connected with the seizure on our
side, and the defence on the Boers’ side, of railways, capitals, and
large towns—had already begun in the Free State, and was eventually to
spread to the Transvaal even before the final collapse of that State in
September. Rundle, Colvile, and Brabant, acting on the right rear of the
central armies, had had to cope with constant opposition in the Eastern
Free State. Rundle met with a sharp check at the Biddulphsberg on May
29, and two days later a detached force of Yeomanry, 500 strong,
surrendered to Piet de Wet near Lindley, after an investment of some
days. This was the first serious reverse which befell a Yeomanry corps.
The only moral we need draw from it is the vital importance of spirited
leadership for mounted troops, especially for untried irregulars. On
this occasion the true “Cavalry spirit” was lacking in the officer in
command, who, with a substantial force of mounted men and travelling
light, should never have allowed himself to be invested at all.

A few days later, Christian de Wet, with 1,200 men and 5 guns, again
took the field, and continued the series of raids which he had initiated
at Sannah’s Post and Reddersburg. This time he directed his efforts
mainly against the weakest British point—the enormously lengthy line of
railway communications which linked Roberts to his base. After snapping
up a convoy near Heilbron on June 4, he attacked and captured
simultaneously three posts on the railway between Kroonstad and Pretoria
at daybreak on June 7, and a fortnight later, with varying success,
carried out other raids upon the railway or upon convoys. Trivial as the
direct military results of these exploits were, their moral effect was
enormous, not only in awakening De Wet’s compatriots to a lasting sense
of their own capacity, but in strengthening the higher Boer counsels at
a very critical moment. Roberts and Botha had opened tentative
negotiations for peace between June 5 and 11, after the capture of
Pretoria. There can be no question that De Wet’s successes on June 4 and
7 inclined the scale in favour of war.

The firebrand next appears in July, midway in the drama of the
Brandwater Basin. Hunter’s envelopment of this, the great mountain
fastness of the Eastern Free State, and his capture of over 4,000 men
under Prinsloo on July 29, was the most extensive and the most ably
conducted of all the subsidiary operations during the year 1900.
“Subsidiary,” indeed, is the wrong term. It was capital, in the sense
that it actually removed from the field a large body of fighting
burghers, a result which no other operations, those of Paardeberg alone
excepted, had achieved. The mounted interest, however, in the
manœuvres which led to the surrender, is small. For us the chief
interest lies in the eruption from the death-trap, on July 15, just
before it closed, of De Wet, Steyn, and 2,600 of the best Boer troops,
with 5 guns and an immense convoy.

Dashing away to the north, flinging off two Cavalry brigades, and
capturing a train _en route_, De Wet reached the neighbourhood of
Reitzburg, and lay there for twelve days (July 25 to August 6),
occupying himself with little raids upon the railway. Roberts, who had
just completed his eastward advance to Middelburg, determined to run to
earth the irrepressible Boer leader, and for nine days all eyes in South
Africa were turned upon the extraordinary spectacle presented by the
first of the three great “hunts” with which De Wet’s name is associated.

Ten mobile columns, including large numbers of mounted men, took part,
at one time or another, in the chase, and in all nearly 30,000 men were
engaged directly or indirectly in the enveloping operations. Thrice the
net was drawn so closely around the quarry that there seemed to be no
hope of escape. But De Wet got through, dodging and doubling over the
Vaal, across the Western Transvaal, and through the Magaliesberg Range
to the district north of Pretoria, having achieved—with a loss of a gun
and some waggons—the only specific object of all this desperate
marching; that, namely, of escorting President Steyn to a point whence
he could reach the Transvaal leaders, and concert fresh measures of
defence with them.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this and many another similar feat
of evasion was that it was performed throughout at the “net” speed of
ox-waggons, of which a large number accompanied the Boer column,
together with herds of cattle and sheep, an increasing number of
dismounted burghers, and, until near the end, a considerable number of
British prisoners. De Wet himself, from the beginning to the end of his
career, was always dead against taking heavy convoys on independent
expeditions of this sort, but his power over his burghers rarely reached
the point of persuading them to adopt his view. With our vastly superior
resources for forming advanced bases we should have been able to make
our mounted troops far more independent, but we never succeeded in
overcoming the transport difficulty. Our “net” speed was less than De
Wet’s on this occasion. Mounted interest from the Boer standpoint is
confined: (_a_) To their customary skill in handling small protective
screens, so as to check pursuit, and compel us to waste time in the
preparatory shelling of positions; (_b_) to the brilliant scouting of
Theron’s corps of 200 picked scouts. Knowledge of the country had very
little to do with the success of these scouts, a considerable proportion
of whom were foreigners from Europe. Reconnaissance was our own weakest
point. Touch was rarely kept for twenty-four hours together, and we find
already growing up that insidious tendency to rely more on centralized
intelligence for the blocking of all supposed outlets of escape to the
pursued force than on local scouting, backed by universal co-operation
in strenuous tackling energy, for running that force to earth wherever
and whenever it could be found.

There was plenty of individual British energy displayed in the chase,
but very little co-operative energy. Methuen’s column, which originally
was a mixed force of all arms, bore almost the whole brunt of the direct
pursuit, and performed marvels of endurance. During the last three days
Methuen dropped his Infantry, and followed the trail with 600 Yeomanry,
600 Colonials, and 11 guns, and with these men on the 12th made the only
effective attack in the course of the hunt, capturing a gun and sixteen
waggons. The purely mounted columns, of which there were three, two of
Cavalry and one of mounted riflemen, never gained fighting contact with
the enemy at all.

For the rest, De Wet’s own native audacity and ingenuity were his
salvation. We deceive ourselves if we imagine that we European peoples,
with our “regular” armies and our authorized textbook regulations for
“regular” war, can afford to ignore the very least of the elements of
success in these feats of evasion. If they seem to be wholly defensive
in character, we must remember that they could not have been otherwise.
To stand and fight it out meant envelopment by overwhelming numbers, and
the loss of men who could never be replaced. And defensive power is only
the correlative of offensive power. I need scarcely add that the whole
of the work done by both sides in this hunt, and in all similar hunts,
was essentially Cavalry work. Every good quality shown by either party
was a Cavalry quality.

                    IV.—THE ADVANCE TO KOMATI POORT.

President Steyn’s safe arrival in the north about the middle of August,
after this perilous series of adventures, brings us somewhat prematurely
to the last scene in the first great phase of the war. He came too late
to be of use in averting the final dissolution of the Transvaal forces
before the advance of Lord Roberts up the Delagoa Railway to the
Portuguese frontier. But we must retrace our steps a little before we
reach that point.

Since Diamond Hill (June 12) the Transvaal leaders had gradually
abandoned all serious intention of defending the Delagoa line to
extremities. Botha soon seems to have resigned himself to the eventual
necessity of guerilla warfare, and during June sent off most of his
commandos to their own districts, there to fight for their own homes,
reserving for the defence of the Delagoa Railway only those burghers
through whose districts it passed, together with the Police and most of
his Artillery. For a month he held the Tigerpoort range of hills,
fifteen to twenty miles east of Pretoria. Meanwhile the south-eastern
men opposed Buller’s advance from the Natal border to Heidelberg, the
northern men prepared to defend the Pietersburg Railway, and De la Rey
organized the first of many formidable offensive revivals in his own
district, the Western Transvaal, culminating on July 11 in the capture
of the post at Zilikat’s Nek, in other small attacks, and in a general
threat to Pretoria from the west. Botha, who had just been driven off
the Tigerpoort range by a well-managed movement of mounted troops under
Hutton and French (July 5 to 11), now saw a chance of an effective
combination with De la Rey by a counter-attack upon the position just
lost. Viljoen, with 2,000 men (against about 4,000 on our side), carried
out this enterprise with considerable spirit on July 16, and came
dangerously near success on our left at Witpoort. The situation was
saved in this quarter by what the Official and _Times_ narratives call a
“charge” of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, though how near it came to
being a mounted charge I am unable to discover.

These events, together with De Wet’s escape from the Brandwater Basin,
further delayed the eastward British advance, which was eventually begun
on July 23. Middelburg was captured with little difficulty on July 27,
and then there was a halt of another three weeks, rendered necessary by
the hunt of De Wet and many other minor elements of disturbance. During
this period French, with several thousand mounted troops (his own
Cavalry and Hutton’s mounted riflemen), held a semicircular outpost line
fifty miles in extent to the eastward of Middelburg, and showed the same
kind of skill and activity as he had exhibited at Colesberg in sparring
with the Boer forces in front of him.

Buller, in the meantime, was marching northward from the Natal border
with 9,000 men (including two mounted brigades) and 42 guns, and
effected a junction with French on August 15. Belfast fell to the joint
forces a few days later, and on the 27th, reinforced by an Infantry
division to a total strength of nearly 19,000 men (of whom 4,800 were
mounted), Roberts fought the last pitched battle of the regular war at
Bergendal. Strange and characteristic climax it was! Exceeding all
previous records in extension, Botha, with about 7,000 men, on an
extreme estimate, and 20 guns, held a line of difficult mountainous
country no less than fifty miles in extent from end to end, reaching
from the approaches to Lydenburg on the north to the approaches to
Barberton on the south. No more than twenty miles of this front,
however, held at the most by 5,000 men, was concerned in the action.

Upon the extreme right of this position French, with two Cavalry
brigades, together about 1,600 strong, made the normal wide turning
movement against strong but lightly-held positions, and made it very
vigorously and successfully; but it took him all day, so that he could
not make the further projected sweep round the Boer rear.[49] Buller
meanwhile assaulted the key to the Boer position—Bergendal Hill, on the
left centre. This was a truly extraordinary episode in its proof of the
terrific power of the modern rifle in the hands of disciplined men. The
summit of the hill, about 200 yards by 100 yards in extent, was crowned
with boulders, which made it a natural fort. It was bombarded with
lyddite and shrapnel for three hours by thirty-eight guns, including
heavy naval pieces and howitzers, until, as an historian puts it, it
looked like Vesuvius in eruption. Then it was assaulted in the most
intrepid style by a brigade of Infantry (1st Inniskilling Fusiliers and
2nd Rifle Brigade), who, before storming the crest, lost 120 officers
and men, mainly, but not wholly, from the fire of the Bergendal
burghers; for two or three other small detachments co-operated at
long-range from neighbouring hill-tops. When all was over, it was found
that the hill had been held by seventy-four men of the Johannesburg
Police—mounted riflemen, be it noted. Thirty got away on their horses,
twenty were captured alive, and the rest were killed or wounded. As an
example of the truth that defensive and offensive power are correlatives
of one another, it may be remarked that these same “Zarps,” under at
least one of the same leaders (Pohlmann), had taken a leading part in
the assault and capture of Nicholson’s Nek ten months earlier. The
Police, we must remember, were the only regular disciplined force
(gunners excepted) which the Boers possessed.


Footnote 49:

  I have no space for details, but I ask the reader to study either the
  _Times_ or the Official narratives; and I suggest that it was not
  worth while to make so great a circuit in order to turn out 500 Boers
  from distant flank posts. If French, leaving a small containing force,
  had advanced direct upon Lakenvlei by the road the Infantry took, he
  would have been in a position to act upon the Boer rear at an early


This cardinal success in the centre brought the battle—if battle it may
be called—to an end. French could not pursue, and the pursuit of
Buller’s Cavalry was ineffective.

This was Botha’s last resolute stand. His own and Steyn’s efforts
together could not prevent the subsequent disintegration. Indeed, it is
a remarkable proof of their ability and moral courage that during the
next fortnight, with the help of some minor leaders like Kemp and
Viljoen, and with the support of the most sturdy and patriotic burghers,
they were able to present a decent show of resistance on the immense
front from Lydenburg to Barberton and onwards; to avert anything in the
nature of a decisive defeat in the field; and finally, when the crash
came on the Portuguese frontier, to concentrate, and by perilous and
exhausting flank marches to save from the wreckage, not only the acting
executive Governments of both Republics, but substantial bodies of
resolute men—the nucleus, in short, for nearly two more years of
strenuous resistance.

It was here that the now inveterate habit on our part of overrating the
importance of winning positions and of underrating the importance of
defeating the Boers in person led to its most unfortunate results. The
Portuguese frontier was the “touch-line.” Short of incarceration (and a
large number of horseless and destitute men chose this course), there
was no alternative but a wide flank march to the north across the
British front, at first over the fever-stricken “low veld,” then over
precipitous mountains whose spurs for a long distance were already held
by our troops. Steyn, travelling light with 250 men, and starting on
September 11, got through with ease. Botha and Viljoen, with 2,500 men,
starting on the 17th, only just rounded Buller’s extreme left flank at a
point thirty miles from the railway on September 26. All eventually
arrived at Pietersburg, which became henceforth a workshop, a
recruiting-ground, and an administrative centre whence plans for future
hostilities were hatched. One of the young leaders present—Kemp of
Krugersdorp—was in later days the first to put in systematic use those
formidable charging tactics which did so much to prolong the war.

It is one of the ironies of the campaign that, with all the elaborate
and extensive flank movements of mounted troops—often far too extensive
and elaborate—which had characterized our operations in the past, we had
not ready at this crisis, when its presence was of vital consequence, a
compact, independent mounted force for the interception of these
important Boer detachments.

But, in truth, in spite of a week’s explicit warning of Botha’s intended
march, his escape and that of Steyn passed almost unnoticed. All eyes
were fixed on a spectacle of seemingly irreparable ruin; of abandoned
guns, stores, and rolling-stock; of burghers flying into foreign
territory; of Kruger and his officials flying to Europe. The army, from
Roberts downwards, and the whole outside world, seems to have
interpreted these phenomena as signs that the war was practically over.
At the time this was very natural, and this we should not forget when
criticizing the error of judgment by the light of after-events.

Nor would it have been easy, even had the warning of our political
agents received full attention, to arrange for the interception of Botha
in addition to the other pre-occupations of the time. Buller had two
Cavalry brigades on the northern flank, but they were scattered over a
long series of posts. A few hundred mounted riflemen were with the
central Infantry column on the railway; but most of the remaining
mounted troops, in two columns composed of 1,000 mounted riflemen under
Hutton, and 3,000 Cavalry and mounted riflemen under French, both well
supplied with guns and auxiliary troops, had been employed since the 8th
in marching on parallel routes through the mountains on the southern
flank in order to clear this side for the central advance of the
Infantry up the railway. On September 13 both arrived at their
respective goals—Hutton at Kaapsche Hoop, French at Barberton, the
terminus of a small branch railway. Both these marches, but especially
the southernmost—that of French—though they met with slight opposition,
merit high praise, and were a worthy culmination of the efforts of the
mounted troops during the regular war. It is true that they scarcely
raise our special issue, or raise it only to afford us new evidence
against the _arme blanche_, for the terrain—steep, wild, and intricate
mountains—was as unsuitable for the exercise of that weapon as the
hedge-bound plains of England. But we can afford for a moment to forget
our immediate issue in admiring the staunch endurance of all the troops
alike, the nerve, energy, and self-reliance of French, and the admirable
staff-work which, by assuring supplies and communications, enabled him
to give full rein to his soldierly instincts.

                               CHAPTER X
                            THE GUERILLA WAR

                     SEPTEMBER, 1900, TO MAY, 1902.

  NOTE.—For actions and operations mentioned in this chapter (part of
  which covers ground not yet dealt with by our Official Historians),
  the reader is referred to the _Times_ History, vol. v.

So ended what is usually known as the “regular war.” In South Africa the
expression had no precise significance. Regular war had been melting
imperceptibly into guerilla war for some time past. The Boers were not
dependent, as thickly peopled industrial communities are dependent, on
their railways, capitals, and principal towns. The vast majority lived
on the land, and the land was theirs, very little ravaged as yet, and,
as to vast areas, still even unvisited. The guerilla war may truly be
said to have begun in the Free State in March, 1900, after the capture
of Bloemfontein, and in the Transvaal not later, at any rate, than July,
when Botha, from necessity rather than from choice, sent most of his
burghers to their own districts. Nor was the crash at Komati Poort
followed by anything more than a partial lull in hostilities.

Over both the newly annexed Colonies we exercised no authority outside
the range of our guns. In the greater part of the Transvaal, it is
true, there were two months during which the burghers, like wasps,
stung rarely unless they were disturbed; but in the sister state, De
Wet’s return at the end of August, after the first “hunt,” had roused
his countrymen to fresh offensive efforts. After some weeks of
propaganda and reorganization he took the field on September 20, just
when Roberts was approaching Komati Poort. A month later he was laying
formal, though unsuccessful, siege, to a fortified town in the
Transvaal—Frederikstad—and in Mid-November, undeterred by a sharp
reverse at Bothaville (November 6), he was marching south through the
Eastern Free State, besieging and, this time, capturing another
fortified town—Dewetsdorp—and endeavouring to invade Cape Colony. By a
great concerted effort, organized by Kitchener, and known as the
second “De Wet hunt,” he was checked, but not before he had succeeded,
early in December in throwing across the border bands under Kritzinger
and Hertzog, which lit an inextinguishable flame of rebellion among
the Dutch colonists.

Certain incidents in this period (September to November, 1900) call for
special notice.

1. The march of 173 miles made by French’s Cavalry division, about 3,000
strong, across the Eastern Transvaal in October, with the object of
“clearing the country.” This march revealed with startling clearness
both the nature of the campaign which was beginning, and the incapacity
of the Cavalry, armed and equipped as they were, to cope with it. Bands,
which never exceeded a third and rarely exceeded a fifth or sixth of
French’s strength, harassed the column all the way with vicious little
attacks, which were repelled, but which met with no punishment, nor with
any adequate tactical retaliation. The expedition achieved nothing,
encouraged the enemy, and was attended by enormous losses of oxen and
horses. It is true that numbers of other columns (the majority composed
mainly of Infantry) were tramping about the country at this time with
scarcely better results, and nearly all suffering from the disability
imposed by heavy ox-transport. It is true also, that the country
traversed by French presented peculiar difficulties in its remoteness
from railways, and in the pugnacity of its burghers. But, with allowance
for these considerations, the marked feature of the expedition, from the
point of view of our inquiry, was the failure of the Cavalry to reap
advantage, tactically, from occasions when the enemy sought a conflict.

2. A more hopeful omen for the future was afforded at about the same
time in the Free State, by the action of Bothaville[50] (November 6,
1900), at the end of a long chase of De Wet by some columns of mounted
riflemen under Charles Knox, after the Boer leader’s retreat from
Frederikstad, and before his attempt to invade Cape Colony. His laager
and guns were surprised and attacked at close range in brilliant style
by a small advance-guard composed of only sixty-seven regular Mounted
Infantry, who held their ground until reinforced, and brought about the
capture of several guns, much transport, and 100 men, after a fiercely
contested fight of some hours’ duration. This exploit was something
wholly new. Nothing exactly like it had been done by our mounted troops
since the war began. Some excellent work, too, though never quite good
enough for the purpose, was done by the same and other mounted columns
in the subsequent hunt of De Wet, arising out of his attempted raid on
Cape Colony (November 24 to December 13, 1900). Co-operation was far
better, and tackling power higher than in the “hunt” of the preceding


Footnote 50:

  “Official History,” vol. iii., pp. 485–488; _Times_ History, vol. v.,
  pp. 15–20.


3. _Charges._—We note the Boer mounted charge occurring—

(_a_) On at least one small occasion during the march of the Cavalry
division referred to above. I have no details, only a bare mention of
the circumstance in the “Official History” (vol. iii., p. 432). The
movement was repelled.

(_b_) On November 6, at Komati River, in the course of some operations
under Smith-Dorrien, near the Delagoa Railway, where Boers, firing from
the saddle, charged clean through a rear-guard of Canadian mounted
troops (_Times_ History, vol. v., p. 51; “Official History,” vol. iii.,
p. 442).

(_c_) In the second “De Wet hunt.” This, I think, was the first example
in the war, on the Boer side, of what I may call the penetrating charge,
after the Klip Drift pattern, that is, designed to pierce a screen for
ulterior purposes, not to inflict immediate loss on the enemy. It
occurred at the close of the hunt, when, at Springhaan’s Nek (December
14, 1900), the Boers, accompanied by a mass of waggons, burst through
the Thabanchu line of fortified posts, which had been strengthened at
the point attacked by small detachments of mounted riflemen. It is worth
while, though I have not the space, to examine the incident side by side
with the Klip Drift charge, noting relative numbers, size of target,
ground, and the effect of fire upon men and animals in rapid movement
(_Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 40–42. Not mentioned in “Official

(_d_) A successful little charge, this time by Britons, occurred on the
same day in another part of the field, at Victoria Nek, where a detached
Boer force was attacked and very roughly handled by the Welsh Yeomanry
and the 16th Lancers. The “Official History” makes no mention of the
episode, and my own information is scanty. Some of the Yeomanry, it is
said, used clubbed rifles. Whether the Lancers used their swords I do
not know. As to clubbed rifles, contrast the Boer plan of firing from
the saddle (_Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 41–42).

(_e_) On the British side again, Bothaville (referred to above) was
certainly on the border-line of charges. The advance-guard dismounted at
something like point-blank range. So few in numbers, they would have
gained little by riding home, and might have defeated their own object.
As it was, they achieved their object, and that is all that matters,
whether it is Infantry, Cavalry, or mounted riflemen who are charging.

My digression has run to greater length than I intended. There was no
pause in the current of Boer aggression. No sooner had De Wet turned his
back on the Orange River than the long-prepared offensive revival in the
Transvaal was carried into effect. Viljoen’s enterprises against the
Delagoa Railway towards the end of November had heralded the storm,
which, during the early part of December, broke with violence in the
western district, where the Buffelspoort convoy was destroyed (December
2, 1900), and De la Rey defeated Clements at Nooitgedacht (December 13,
1900). The revival spread to the south-east, where several towns on the
Natal border were attacked, and culminated in the north-east, with
Viljoen’s capture of Helvetia, on December 31, and Botha’s simultaneous
midnight attacks of January 5 upon the garrisons of the Delagoa Railway,
one of which, that on Belfast, came perilously near success.

Kitchener, who had assumed the chief command in South Africa on November
29, 1900, just when the Free State revival was declining, and the
Transvaal outbreak was beginning, was faced with an extraordinarily
difficult and complicated problem. He had to cope with a new national
spirit among the Boers, emanating from men who were wholly unconnected
with the old Kruger régime, and gathering strength from the elimination,
by surrender or voluntary exile, of the supporters of that régime. The
new national spirit took practical shape in a new military spirit, one
of vigorous offence, conducted by men who represented what, beyond all
question now, was the most formidable type of soldier in the world—the
mounted rifleman—men who were equally at home in defending or assaulting
entrenched positions, and in attack or defence in the open field.

Our own resources for dealing with the situation were manifestly
inadequate. It was not only that there had been visible in some of the
recent events disquieting signs of feebleness in defence, leading to
unjustifiable surrenders. This evil was largely due to the lassitude and
staleness which affected the army in general. The really grave feature
was our inability to retaliate effectively against these aggressive
enterprises, an inability strikingly illustrated by the long but futile
operations which were set on foot in the Western Transvaal after
Nooitgedacht. The truth came like a flash, pitilessly illuminating past
shortcomings, that all along we had been conquering the country, not the
race, winning positions, not battles. Psychological causes apart, our
cardinal military weakness had always lain in the mounted arm, not in
numbers, except at the very first, but in quality. Unless we carry
self-deception so far as either to eliminate from the calculation the
great masses of Infantry who had borne the main brunt of the regular
campaign and had suffered far the heaviest losses, or, on the other
hand, to count the enemy twice over, once as opponents of the Infantry,
and again as opponents of our mounted troops; unless we perpetrate one
of these errors, we must candidly admit that we had had our full chance
of securing decisive victories through the semi-independent agency of
mounted men. The figures and facts to which I drew attention in
sketching the main operations from Paardeberg to Komati Poort prove this
conclusively. We had missed our chance, and the consequences of missing
it, obscured at the time by a long record of successful invasion and
occupation, were now apparent. The war, obviously, was to be a mounted
war. In the last resort nothing but efficiency in the same formidable
type which the Boers represented could enable us to conquer them.
Infantry would still perform the task of holding the ground won; they
would also perform many valuable subsidiary duties in the field, but
always of a defensive or semi-defensive character. For offence, whether
for finding the enemy and forcing him to action, or for beating him when
he sought action himself, mounted riflemen, good enough and numerous
enough, were an indispensable necessity. In this respect, what were our

We had evolved our type of mounted rifleman, which, in essentials,
followed the Boer type, but in practice fell short of the ideal. The
Cavalry, who from the first should have inspired and furthered the
educational process, were only just beginning to substitute the rifle
for the carbine, a change which must, I imagine, have been finally
prompted by the experience, alluded to above, of their divisional march
across the Eastern Transvaal, in October, 1900. So far as I know, the
first occasion on which any considerable force of Cavalry carried rifles
in the field was in the great driving operations which began in that
same district, and again under French, at the end of January, 1901. The
lance was already discarded, and eventually the sword also was
discarded, but not until many months later. There seems to have been no
simultaneous abandonment of swords by all Cavalry regiments alike. The
change was gradual. In dwelling once again upon the backwardness of
Cavalry training, I must explain once again, for fear of
misunderstanding, that I am criticizing them by a standard special to
themselves, the only standard appropriate to a professional force which
had been in the field for more than a year. I need scarcely say that
their record in the guerilla war, as in all the war, is honourable, and
in many respects admirable; but by contrast with what they might have
become without the _arme blanche_ habit and training, it is
comparatively negative and tame. With a few trifling exceptions they
escape the reverses which so often befell their less disciplined and
less experienced irregular comrades, but they do not stand out
pre-eminent in that aggressive energy which was the great tradition of
their arm. In the matter of leadership we find them supplying many
excellent column commanders—men like Byng, Briggs, Scobell, and
Rimington, to name only a few—but on the whole they can scarcely be said
to have surpassed other arms of the service in the production of good
leaders. Needless to say, good leading never came from any other source
than oblivion of steel methods and unreserved reliance on the rifle.

The regular Mounted Infantry had made rapid strides in efficiency, in
spite of the extraordinary difficulties with which they had to
grapple—inexperience in riding and horse-management, dearth of officers,
hurried organization, absence of common tradition and _esprit de corps_.
But they had been worked with great severity, had shrunk greatly from
the ordinary wastage of war, and could only be reinforced by the same
unscientific and wasteful methods by which they had been raised—that is,
by abstraction from Infantry battalions, which, in their turn, lost in
efficiency from the process.

The prospect was even worse with the irregulars, Home and Colonial. All
had worked hard, and most had done exceedingly well, considering their
inexperience and the faults inseparable from improvised unprofessional
corps. In sheer fighting efficiency the best of the seasoned Colonials,
South African, Australasian and Canadian, had undoubtedly excelled all
other mounted troops. Like the self-made soldiers of the American Civil
War, they had seemed by intuition to grasp the possibilities of a union
of the rifle with the horse. But the irregular mounted army was
dissolving in Kitchener’s hands. Enlisted for limited terms, the various
corps, Yeomanry included, had reached, or were soon to reach, their
limit. It was necessary to forego their accumulated experience, to issue
fresh appeals for volunteers, and to reconstruct this part of the army
from top to bottom. The thing was done, but the stamp of new men
enlisted (for there were many re-enlistments), whether from Home or the
Colonies, and in spite of higher pay, was never again so good as of old.
This deterioration was especially noticeable in some of the minor South
African corps, whether raised for general purposes, or for the special
purpose of acting as a local militia for the defence of Cape Colony.
There was one marked exception to the general rule. The South African
Constabulary, recruited from all parts of the Empire, and designed to be
a permanent force, obtained the cream of the recruits.

Kitchener’s first reconstruction of the volunteer mounted army was not
final. Limited terms again ran out, as the war dragged on, and fresh
contingents replaced time-expired men. But the sources never ran dry,
and on balance the strength tended to increase.

The constant changes and fluctuations make it exceedingly difficult to
obtain accurate numerical estimates of our total mounted strength
(regular and irregular) at any given time during this period. But we may
say with approximate accuracy that in June, 1901, when all the volunteer
mounted troops first appealed for in December, 1900, were in the field,
and when the professional element had been reinforced, the total mounted
strength was about 80,000, of whom 14,000 were regular Cavalry, and
12,000 regular Mounted Infantry (now divided into 27 battalions). The
new contingent of Yeomanry numbered about 16,000; the South African
Constabulary 7,500, and the Australasian contingents 5,000. Exclusive of
the Cape Colony militia (District Mounted Troops and Town Guards), South
Africa itself provided about 24,000 men enrolled in active corps. These
are the full nominal figures. The effective fighting strength of the
same units, on June 19 (according to an official state), was, within a
man or two, 60,000.

The total strength of the whole army at the same period was about
244,000; “effective fighting strength” (according to the same official
state), 164,000.

During the last year of the war, from June, 1901, to June, 1902, the
regular Cavalry increased, in round numbers, to 16,000; the regular
Mounted Infantry to 15,000; the Australasian and Canadian contingents to
13,000; and the South African Constabulary to 9,500; while in the last
five months a wholly new mounted corps, eventually 2,300 strong, was
formed from the personnel of the Royal Artillery. By this time the
second contingent of Yeomanry had dwindled considerably, and a third was
formed, 7,000 strong, most of whom did not arrive in time to fight. At
the end of the war, with the active South African corps and the District
Mounted Troops reckoned in, there must have been 100,000 mounted men in
the field, without counting the Boer levies, known as National Scouts
and Orange River Colony Volunteers. The whole army numbered about a
quarter of a million.

While this progressive increase went on in British strength, and
predominantly in mounted strength, the Boers steadily diminished. Here,
too, periodical estimates are extraordinarily difficult. Within the two
annexed states, not only enrolled burghers of fighting age, but every
surviving male, except boys below, say, fourteen, and infirm old men,
now had to be reckoned as potential enemies. The rebel element in Cape
Colony was an indeterminate quantity. The foreign element gradually
disappeared. If we accept the calculation of the Official Historians,
that from first to last in the whole war, with the inclusion of rebels
and foreigners, a grand total of 87,365 persons took arms against us at
one time or another; if, at the other end of the scale, we bear in mind
the number of men who laid down their arms at the conclusion of the
war—namely, 21,256, and if we examine the intermediate statistics of
surrenders, captures, and casualties, the rough conclusion may be drawn
that at Christmas, 1900, we had still about 55,000 potential enemies to
reckon with, and in June, 1901, about 45,000. During the last year the
average monthly reduction was about 2,000.

But, apart from estimates of potential strength, the numbers actually on
a war-footing at any given moment were very small—rarely more than
15,000—and sometimes as low probably as 9,000. No single body of men
larger than 3,000—and this figure was exceedingly rare—ever again took
the field.

The reduction in total numbers was one of quantity, not of quality. The
weakest, morally or physically, were weeded out. The fittest survived
and became continuously more formidable. That is what gives such
extraordinary interest to the mounted operations of the guerilla war.
How the small nucleus of veterans with limited resources and without
external help managed to hold out for a year and three-quarters after
the crash at Komati Poort against an Empire drawing upon inexhaustible
resources of men, money, and material, and how, though losing their
independence, they succeeded in obtaining terms which ensured to them in
the near future political equality with their conquerors, is a story I
have endeavoured elsewhere to take my share in telling. In these pages I
have to confine myself, as closely as possible, to my own narrow issue.
But it is necessary, once more, to say a few words on the larger aspects
of the campaign.

First let us rid our minds of the fallacy that guerilla war is a wholly
distinct thing in kind from regular war. It is nothing of the sort. War
is a science whose fundamental principles are constant, however wide and
numerous the variations of circumstance under which it is conducted.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote what I wrote on this point in my
preface to vol. v. of the _Times_ History:

  “Whether the enemy be based on rich and populous towns, linked by a
  network of railways, or on nomadic knots of waggons, filled from
  half-ravaged mealy fields, whether he draws ammunition from
  well-equipped arsenals, or gleans it from deserted camping-grounds,
  whether he manœuvres in armies 100,000 strong, or in commandos 500
  strong, the problem of grappling with that enemy and forcing him to
  admit defeat is in essentials the same. Moreover, it is the peculiar
  interest of guerilla war that it illuminates much that is obscure and
  difficult in regular war. Just as the Röntgen rays obliterate fleshy
  tissues, and reveal the bony structure, so in the incidents of
  guerilla war there may be seen, stripped of a mass of secondary
  detail, the few dominant factors which sway the issue of great battles
  and great campaigns. Subjected to close analysis, one of Kitchener’s
  combinations may be perceived to have succeeded or failed from the
  same causes which dictated the success or failure of Marlborough’s
  combinations. It is equally true that in many of the short and sharp
  actions described in this volume there may be distinguished, following
  one another with kinematographic rapidity and vividness, the same
  phases through which long struggles on historic battle-fields have

I repeat these words here because, among the many perversions of history
for which the _arme blanche_ school is indirectly responsible, none is
more widespread than the vague idea, for it cannot be called a reasoned
opinion, that the guerilla war may be ignored for instructional
purposes. This is only an insidious extension of the proposition that
the whole war was so “peculiar” as to afford no condemnation of the
_arme blanche_; but the guerilla war is supposed to lend itself
especially well to the propagation of that fallacy. So mercurial and
intangible was the enemy (the suggestion is), so incalculable and
irresponsible his movements, so numerous and safe the lairs from which
he could gather, and to which he could disperse, so complete his
independence of bases and communications, that it is useless to look for
strategical, much less for tactical and technical lessons. To speak
plainly, all this is pernicious nonsense. Every soldier knows in his
heart that no success in action was ever gained on either side but by
high individual efficiency in the men, by clever and spirited leading,
and by putting into practice ordinary military principles. When we
compare the Boers, in the way of legitimate metaphor, to wasps or
mosquitoes, do not let us vainly imagine that their tactical methods
were no more highly developed than those of that class of insect. _A
fortiori_ let us reject Mr. Goldman’s strange delusion that they
practised evasion so perpetually and successfully as not to give our
Cavalry—to say nothing of our mounted riflemen—a fair chance for the
“discharge of Cavalry duties.” Neither sporadic sniping nor persistent
evasion would have enabled the Boers to maintain their long resistance.
They needed victories, however small, not only to replenish their
ammunition, but to sustain their spirit and they could only obtain them
by careful preparation, bold execution, and disciplined tactical
methods. In war you can get nothing for nothing. However familiar the
ground to you, and however great the disabilities under which your enemy
labours, if you are going to do damage of any consequence you must
concentrate a disciplined force, however small; feed it when
concentrated; make plans, often concerted plans needing accurate
co-operation; scout boldly and intelligently; hold your force well in
hand and in close order up to the limit of prudence; and when the hour
for action comes, rely on the valour and skill of your men to execute a
definite tactical scheme in a coherent, disciplined fashion. In this way
only—a way old as war itself—were actions, small or great, won in South
Africa either by ourselves or by the Boers.

As to the _arme blanche_, whatever opportunities, if any, the past had
afforded, those opportunities still existed. If it had been possible to
exert shock in the past, it was equally possible now. That the numbers
engaged on either side in any given action were on the average smaller
made no difference. Nor did the Boer way of fighting, though it improved
greatly in vigour, change in any essential particular. They had always
fought and still fought in such a way as to make the rifle absolute
arbiter of tactics. The secondary characteristics which lend such
peculiar difficulties to guerilla war had not the remotest bearing on
this question of weapons for horsemen. What bearing could they
conceivably have? The problem still was to thrash the enemy whether he
sought action or declined action. If it was a case of finding and
forcing to battle an evasive foe, the weapon which inspired most ardour
and nerve in the search was the best weapon. If the foe chose to accept
action, or himself forced an action, the weapon which decided the issue
was the best weapon. Combat is the one and only test, and combats were
innmerable. Whether the Boers came to the scene of combat by train, or
from some base-town, or whether they had been summoned suddenly from the
farms of a certain limited district, was immaterial to the efficacy of
weapons. In accepting combat, whether with little or great ardour, they
accepted all the risks and penalties of combat. That is the only healthy
way to look at the matter if we are to gain true instruction from the
war, and not merely to drug our minds with the complacent thought that
the difficulties were immense, and that on the whole we did as well as
we could be expected to do.

The whole of the South African War, and the guerilla war in particular,
was a superb school for mounted troops. It was an exceedingly hard
school, but hard schools are the best. Our soldiers, and above all our
Cavalrymen, ought to thank Providence on their knees for having given
them this unique and unrivalled opportunity for practice in their art
within a ring-fence, so to speak, subject to no external disturbance,
and against an enemy who, however formidable in quality, could never be
reinforced, and were bound to dwindle in numbers.

Did we tackle the guerilla war in such a way as to make the most our
schooling? I am afraid we did not. I am not at all sure that, by the
time we had reached that stage, we had the power to do so; but however
that may be, when we are looking for lessons, let us ruthlessly
eliminate bad or doubtful precedents, and fix our eyes on good

Our principal weakness was not a new one, though it assumed a new shape.
We had always aimed too much at the positions and possessions of the
enemy, and too little at his personnel. It was the same now. His new
base henceforward was the land, and we made it one of our principal
endeavours, if not our primary endeavour, to cut off that great and
fruitful source of supply. Roberts, as early as September, 1900, had
enjoined the destruction of crops, and, under certain conditions, of
farms, though comparatively little had been accomplished when he quitted
the command. Kitchener initiated a plan of systematic devastation, with
its corollary, the systematic deportation of non-combatants to
concentration camps. With the ethical and political aspects of this
measure we are not now concerned. Its military result was to retard the
education and restrict the fighting efficacy of our mounted troops by
setting before them two incompatible aims: that of grappling with the
enemy, and that of destroying his crops and cattle and deporting his
families. The latter aim, which was secondary, too often tended to
become primary, simply because it was the easiest to put into practice,
and human nature is prone to follow lines of least resistance.

Another doubtful precedent, closely allied with the last, and only to be
justified as a _pis aller_ to meet an immensely difficult case, was the
system of “drives”—the system, that is, of sweeping defined tracts of
country with large groups of columns, according to formal plans worked
out in a central staff department, and controlled in execution from that
department. This, broadly speaking, was Kitchener’s method of dealing
with the guerilla war. He varied it with other methods, with concerted
movements of a minor and less centralized character, with the night-raid
system, the constabulary post system, and with the work of independent
columns, while periodical eruptions of spontaneous Boer activity often
compelled him to retaliate with any rough-and-ready means that came to
hand. A vast amount of good independent or semi-independent work was
done in one way or another by enterprising British leaders, but on the
whole it is true to say that the drive was our principal weapon. Now,
the spirit of the drive was diametrically opposed to the spirit which
should actuate ardent mounted troops. It sacrificed dash to symmetry,
and it gave no scope for surprise, the soul of mounted effort. Designed
to cope with evasion, it bred habits which reacted on enterprise just
when enterprise had its best opportunities—that is, when the Boers took
the offensive. Except in weeding out weak-kneed burghers and in
facilitating devastation, it proved sterile until reinforced by its
complement, the block-house system. This system added physical barriers
to human barriers and provided a far-flung network of communications and
supply centres, by the aid of which, in addition to the railways and
base-towns, enormous numbers of men could be manœuvred in driving
lines, fifty or sixty miles in length, with mathematical precision and
speed. But the system was not ready for application in its complete form
until February, 1902, after sixteen months of guerilla war, and even
this huge and elaborate mechanism, although by a throttling, starving
process it eventually brought the Boers to their knees, failed to
achieve the supreme object of war, the defeat of the enemy in the open
field. To the last, veterans who still possessed horses and the will to
escape, overleapt the strongest barriers, whether animate or inanimate,
and to the last, wherever pressure was relaxed, dealt biting blows at
isolated columns.

It is easy to point out the drawbacks of Kitchener’s military policy.
But it is difficult to see how, with his professional mounted troops
still so backward, and with the raw levies which constituted so large a
portion of his mounted army, he could have adopted any other policy. As
it was, he took great risks and incurred substantial penalties in
throwing prematurely into the field untrained troops. The fact, about
which there can be no question, that during the last year of the war the
enemy replenished his ammunition almost entirely from British sources,
and at the end had largely re-armed himself with Lee-Enfield rifles, is
proof enough by itself of the penalties incurred. The most we can say in
criticism of Kitchener is that he might have done more, as the troops
gained confidence and efficiency—and they did gain both, rapidly and
continuously—to temper the rigidity of his excessively centralized
system. Even here we are on debatable ground. His genius was for
organization; his countrymen profited by that genius, and it ill becomes
them to cavil at the defects which were its inevitable accompaniment. A
weaker man, actuated by the theoretically higher aim of educating his
mounted troops on ideal lines, at whatever cost, might very well have
failed miserably. We can obtain a rough criterion of what this education
meant by a study of the guerilla war in Cape Colony, where devastation
and deportation were out of the question, where drives were barely
feasible, though they were sometimes tried, and where the single object
of finding and fighting the rebel bands stood out unobscured. With full
allowance for the immense difficulties of the problem, the results
cannot be regarded as satisfactory.

In summing up the whole matter we must remember that two great
factors—one military, the other moral—exercised an influence upon
events which Kitchener, beyond a certain point, was powerless to
modify. The military factor was simply the initial inferiority of our
troops to the Boers as mounted riflemen. At bottom, the excessive
driving tendency was promoted by the same cause as the tendency during
the regular war towards disproportionately wide turning movements, as
opposed to direct aggressive tackling. The idea was to circumvent, not
to attack; to trap, not to pierce. Similarly with reconnaissance.
This, by the time Kitchener took the command, had become almost a lost
art. To revive it, in the exacting conditions, was beyond the power of
a Commander-in-Chief. We came to rely almost wholly on outside
agencies—natives and Boer spies—for our intelligence, and on central
agencies for the diffusion of this intelligence. This was a fatal
precedent for our Cavalry in future wars. Naturally, the effect was to
favour centrally organized drives and to discourage that highest form
of enterprise which inspires men who use their own eyes to secure
opportunities for their own weapons. What is the weapon which not only
decides the combat but aids the scout to use his eyes? Everywhere and
always, in Manchuria as in South Africa, the rifle.

I touched on the moral factor in my last chapter. The Boers had the
highest possible moral stimulus—that of defending their homes and
nationalities. We had no motive so stimulating. Racial hatred would have
been the only stimulus correspondingly strong, but we had none. The
Boers improved on acquaintance. We had taken up arms to secure the
political equality of our countrymen, and we had already secured that
object beyond question, and annexation as well. To go farther, and aim
at so cowing the Boer national spirit as to gain a permanent political
ascendancy for ourselves was an object beyond our power or will to
achieve, and beyond the power or will of any free democracy or
confederation of free democracies of the British Imperial type to
achieve. Peaceable political fusion under our own flag was the utmost we
could secure. That meant a conditional Boer surrender, on a promise of
future autonomy. The unconditional surrender which Lord Milner was
anxious to obtain, however long and bitter a struggle it entailed, could
scarcely have led to peaceable fusion. The only other alternative,
feasible possibly, but outside discussion or contemplation, was the
permanent expatriation of all the most vigorous elements in the two Boer
races. Kitchener grasped the truth as soon as he took command. That his
own spontaneous instinct as a soldier was towards sharp, mercilessly
decisive blows in the field he had shown clearly enough at Paardeberg.
But that opportunity and many others had been lost, never to return.
From a soldier’s point of view he saw the insuperable difficulties at
this hour of attempting, with the material now at his command, to deal
blows sharp and heavy enough to destroy the Boer national spirit. Hence
his rather mechanical military system, aiming at slow attrition rather
than fierce aggression; hence his schemes for dealing with the civil
population; and hence his political policy, which was to obtain at the
earliest moment, but without the least relaxation of strong military
effort—indeed, with a daily intensification of those efforts—a
settlement on agreed terms. The Boers, clinging desperately to their
independence, held out against any settlement whatever, conditional or
unconditional, until May, 1902. Meanwhile the task of inducing them to
recognize the inevitable was not one which evoked, or could be expected
to evoke, any marked degree of military enthusiasm. There was a great
deal of very natural caution among commanders in the field, increased by
the ever-present impression that the war was on the point of ending and
by a well-grounded reluctance to make a bold use of new troops against
veterans. It was useless for Kitchener to enjoin daring and enterprise
if he could not get his subordinates to accept the necessary
responsibility. There is no doubt that some of his genuine efforts in
this direction met with inadequate reply. But, again, we cannot blink
the fact that the responsibility, as events showed, was very heavy, and
from purely military causes. The net result was that the strongest will
in South Africa exerted its full and legitimate influence, and produced
a military system based mainly on organization and numbers, rather than
on expert capacity in normal field operations.

_Raids._—It was natural, therefore, that during the guerilla war sound
lessons for the future should come mainly from the Boer side. In
strategy—so far as the word is applicable to the guerilla war—they had
little to teach us; but that little is not unimportant. Beyond the
simple policy of distracting our efforts and alleviating their own
distress by outbreaks timed so as to relieve one harassed district at
the expense of another less harassed, they had only one consistent
strategical object—that, namely, of feeding the rebellion in Cape Colony
by successive small invasions. The instinct was sound. Infinite
embarrassment came of it and a drain on our mounted troops, which was
constant and severe. The principal raids by which this policy was
carried out—(1) that of Hertzog and Kritzinger, December, 1900, to
January, 1901; (2) that of Christian de Wet, January to March, 1901; (3)
that of Smuts, August to September, 1901—are well worth careful study as
examples of what small numbers of determined mounted riflemen can do,
even when burdened, as De Wet was, with heavy transport, in traversing
great tracts of country through hosts of enemies for a strategical
purpose. No. 2 led to the third and greatest “De Wet hunt”—an episode
packed with excitement and dramatic interest from beginning to end. No.
3—the ride of Smuts with 340 men from the Gatsrand (West Transvaal) to
Cape Colony—merits even closer attention.

We must add to the list of raids Botha’s attempted invasion of
Natal—September to October, 1901—which was also an instructive example
for future wars, regular or irregular. Botha failed in what from the
first was a hopeless undertaking, but he showed audacity and nerve,
not only in tactical aggression, but in extricating himself from
envelopment by immensely superior forces on his return journey. Both
for making and checking such raids—and we must include under the same
general heading the previous “hunts” and De Wet’s early raids upon the
railway—rifle-power is everything. In Chapter XIV. I shall contrast
the abject failure of the Russian Cavalry in similar enterprises owing
to lack of rifle-power with the rare but brilliant Japanese successes.
Kimberley and the American Civil War drive home the same lesson.

_Night Attacks._—These were numerous, and prove conclusively that in
this class of enterprise small, thoroughly disciplined forces have good
chances of success against troops who fall short in the slightest degree
in vigilance and sound outpost work. We may divide the attacks roughly
into two classes—those against mobile forces encamped for the night, and
those against more or less permanently fortified posts or towns. Of the
former class, one of the most brilliant, because it was undertaken
against the wariest of wary veterans, was that of Colonel Scobell upon
Lotter’s rebel commando at Bouwer’s Hoek (Cape Colony) on September 4,
1901. A Cavalry regiment—the 9th Lancers—and the Cape Mounted Rifles
shared in the assault, which led to the only complete and unqualified
success we ever obtained in Cape Colony. Another plucky exploit was that
of Major Shea and a detachment of South Australians, who attacked Smuts
at Grootvlei on the night of August 1, 1901, just as that clever young
leader (for once caught napping) was beginning his ride to Cape Colony.

The chief Boer successes of the same type were at Wilmansrust (June 12,
1901), Quaggafontein (September 20, 1901), and Tweefontein (December
24–25, 1901). Careless outpost work by irregular troops was responsible
for all three reverses. On the first two occasions camps on the level
were rushed and overpowered instantaneously; but Tweefontein, besides
illustrating stratagem and stalking skill, is also suggestive of the
risks taken by a force which attacks in the dark. De Wet’s men scaled a
precipitous cliff to storm the British camp, and, in doing so,
overlooked a strong picket ensconced below the crest on the opposite
side. It is possible that if reinforcements to the hill had come as
promptly as they might have come, this picket, which was eventually
discovered and overpowered, might have served as a useful _point
d’appui_ for a counter-stroke. At night, in the confusion of a sudden
assault, the slightest stand made by a handful of determined men is
likely to bewilder and daunt the enemy.

Lake Chrissie (February 5, 1901) and Moedwil (September 30, 1901) were
finely conceived and finely executed night attacks by Botha and De la
Rey respectively against columns under Smith-Dorrien in the one case and
Kekewich in the other. Both were repelled in the most spirited fashion,
but in both there were moments of extreme danger. At Langerwacht
(February 23, 1902) there was a very dramatic and exciting night combat,
when De Wet, to avoid envelopment in one of our great drives of the
latest model type, burst through the cordon of entrenched pickets with a
horde of waggons, carts, cattle, and non-combatants. There were several
other episodes of the same type at that period.

Nooitgedacht (December 13, 1900) may also be placed in the category of
night attacks. De la Rey’s first and unsuccessful attack was delivered
in pitch darkness; the subsequent assault of Beyers in the grey of early

All the above night attacks were upon the camps of mobile forces, but
there were many others upon fortified posts and towns. Helvetia
(December 29, 1900) and the small post at Modderfontein (January 30,
1901) were stormed in darkness. At Vryheid (December 11, 1900) an
outlying post and the Mounted Infantry camp were rushed under the same
circumstances, though the main position held out gallantly. Belfast
(January 7, 1901) had a similar, but a more dangerous, experience,
losing a strongly held outlying post and two entrenched posts, all
defended with great tenacity, shortly after midnight and in misty
weather. But the mist and darkness eventually favoured the defence.
Viljoen and Botha, in endeavouring to unite their forces against the
inner defences, lost their way, and had to retire baffled. The six other
attacks on the garrisons of a section of railway forty miles in extent,
made simultaneously on this same night, were carried out with marvellous
punctuality, but were all gallantly repulsed. In the Western Transvaal,
at a later date, De la Rey’s unsuccessful attack on Lichtenburg (March
2, 1901) was begun and carried on for several hours in the dark.

One of the most thrilling episodes of this class was at Itala (September
25, 1901), the frontier post under Colonel Chapman, which Botha struck
at when he was trying to raid Natal. An outlying post on the peak of
Itala Mountain was taken by a sudden _coup de main_ at midnight, and the
fight, fiercely contested on both sides, raged round the central
position until dawn and throughout the following day. At nightfall there
was a lull, during which each side concluded that the other was
irresistible, and both retired! Prospect, a neighbouring frontier fort,
was also attacked on the night of the 25th, but held its own with ease.

Columns on the march were very rarely attacked in complete darkness. The
only case I know of is that of Yzer Spruit (February 24, 1902), where De
la Rey ambushed a convoy, beginning his attack before the dawn. Attacks
in twilight were common.

Scrutinizing these incidents with a view to our special inquiry, let us
note three points:

1. This is of general application—that is, to day or night attacks. All
mounted troops should, in the art of entrenchment, be as nearly as
possible the equals of Infantry. Though regular Cavalry were not, I
think, concerned in any of the above incidents, the kind of work
involved, whether in attack or defence, was work which normally falls to
Cavalry in all modern war. Troops who cannot make entrenchments will
never be able to storm them.[51]


Footnote 51:

  I am not theorizing. This was the experience both of the Japanese and
  the Russians, as in South Africa and in the American Civil War. See
  “Reports of Military Observers (United States) attached to the Armies
  in Manchuria” (Part V.). Also Chapter XIV., _infra_.


At this moment the regular Cavalry are supposed to be able both to
attack and defend entrenched positions. “There are certain difficulties
in modern war,” admits “Cavalry Training” on page 186, “which cannot be
overcome by mounted action”—that is, by shock action. This action, it is
explained, “is precluded against an enemy posted behind entrenchments or
occupying intersected or broken ground,” or “an extended position,” etc.
In other words, the Cavalry are expected to be able to do the same
offensive work as Infantry. Can they do it? How far could they do it in
South Africa? Similarly in defence. They are “to deny important points
to the enemy” by fire-action (and presumably to deny them effectively),
and on page 215 (“The Defence”) they are “often to be called upon to
occupy localities for defence, especially in small bodies.... Whenever
time and means permit, the position should be put into a state of
defence; the preparations, however, should be _limited to those of the
simplest kind_.” The italics are mine. It is thus that, after South
Africa and Manchuria, we persist in ruinous error. One thinks of Majuba,
of Spion Kop, of Nicholson’s Nek, Dewetsdorp, Nooitgedacht, and only too
many other examples of the Nemesis which attends “defences of the
simplest kind,” no matter by what class of troops they are made and
used. The compilers of the section entitled “Dismounted Action” should
have taken to heart the lesson of Zilikat’s Nek (July 11, 1900), where
regular Cavalry were concerned, both in defence and in attack. Of
course, behind all the compromise which pervades the section there lies
the fatal obsession that openings for shock action must at all costs be
allowed for, and that, in defence, entrenchments should not be so good
as to encourage Cavalry to rely on them, to the prejudice of “mounted
action,” which in Cavalry language means _shock_. This is to disregard
the facts of war. Why did not the Cavalry execute shock charges at or
after the Boer assaults on Wagon Hill? They were there, fighting bravely
enough on foot in defence, but the counter-charges were made by Infantry
and irregular horsemen acting dismounted.

2. Nothing, not even the strongest entrenchments, can replace vigilance.
Here the Cavalry showed an excellent example to their irregular
comrades. Cavalry outposts were rarely surprised, and, I think, there
was only one case of any consequence of a homogeneous Cavalry force
being completely surprised in daylight.

3. Mark the skill and confidence with which the Boers arranged for the
disposal of their led horses in their night attacks, whether on columns
or posts. Of the cases I have quoted, in no instance that I can discover
did they suffer any appreciable loss in horses, or fail, if repulsed, to
get away safely on horseback. One of the many fallacies dissipated by
the South African War is the idea that mounted riflemen can never have
full confidence in attack, because, if they dismount, they perpetually
think too much about the line of retreat to their horses. In darkness,
one would think, this feeling, if it existed, would be particularly
strong. But whether by day or night, this was neither a Boer nor a
British weakness.

_Night Raids._—These were a British speciality, and must come under a
separate heading, for they were not strictly night attacks, but long
nocturnal expeditions designed to culminate in a surprise attack at dawn
upon a Boer laager. Fond themselves of night enterprises, the Boers were
also very sensitive to attack while in laager. This weakness began to be
exploited by some of our mounted leaders in the early part of 1901. The
first noteworthy night raid was on April 13 of that year at
Goedvooruitzicht, where Sir Henry Rawlinson surprised the laager of
Wolmarans at dawn, and captured his transport and a gun, though it is
true that the Boers retaliated with some effect later on in the day.
Other small raids followed in various quarters, and in August and
September Colonel Benson, R.A., with the assistance of Colonel
Woolls-Sampson, operating with a single column in the Eastern Transvaal,
brought the system to high perfection. After his death in the unhappy
reverse of Bakenlaagte, General Bruce Hamilton successfully carried on
the same system in the same district, though with very much larger

These raids supply most valuable instruction as to the best way to
transport a mounted force with speed and secrecy over long distances of
hostile country at night. Immense distances were sometimes covered with
unerring exactitude of direction. Nerve in leadership and the highest
standard of discipline among all ranks were required, both for the march
across country and for the deployment at dawn for attack. Ability to
imitate these marches would be invaluable in any sort of war. But there
are reservations to be made. Accurate information and skilled guides
were absolutely essential to success. Both, in the case of these raids,
came from extraneous sources—namely, Boer spies and native scouts. These
are luxuries which we are not likely to get in future wars. We shall
have to rely mainly, if not solely, on our own eyes and wits. Nor were
the material results of the raids commensurate with the efforts put
forth—at any rate, in the later period when very large forces were used.
Much transport was captured, but most of the prisoners taken were
horseless men, who formed a proportion of every commando in the field.
There was rarely any fighting. If a thorough surprise was effected, all
who could fly fled; but it was noticeable that all through the raiding
period, and in the raided district, the Boers were a match for us in
ordinary daylight actions. On the other hand, the nervous worry and
exhaustion caused by the raids had a very powerful moral effect upon the

_Artillery with Mounted Troops._—I pointed out in Chapter VII. the
disadvantages of allowing mounted troops of any class, acting
independently, to rely too much on the support of Artillery. Guns weaken
surprise, which is the soul of mounted effort. This truth came out with
increasing clearness during the guerilla war. The Boers, having
exhausted all their ammunition and resources for repair and upkeep,
learnt, perforce, to do without guns altogether, with immense advantage
to their tactics. When they obtained them by capture, they soon
abandoned them. We ourselves, in offence, obtained little, if any, value
from guns, and were apt to lose in vigour by the ever-present temptation
of shelling before attacking. In defence they were often useful, but
often, magnificently efficient as the gunners were, a source of tactical
embarrassment. How vulnerable guns are to the assaults of bold mounted
riflemen the record of losses in South Africa shows with painful
clearness. The truth is, that the conditions created by the smokeless
magazine rifle are highly unfavourable to the use of artillery in
exclusively mounted warfare. When both sides are mounted, and acting
freely, the game should be “loose” and “fast,” to borrow football
metaphors. The battery has no target worth speaking of, and is itself a
very substantial and a highly sensitive target, whose mobility is liable
to be destroyed in a few moments by rifle-fire. The team is the vital
point, and the team alone, in the vulnerable surface it presents, is six
times more extensive than a single troop-horse, and twenty times more
extensive than a rifleman skirmishing on foot.

As I have already suggested, the gun, while it calls for the skilled
co-operation of a number of individuals, is essentially an impersonal
weapon. No amount of courage and dexterity in its handling can
compensate for this inherent defect. When used with independent mounted
troops it should be as small, light, in a word, as “personal” as
possible. The bearing of these observations on the _arme blanche_
question is obvious. No superficial peculiarities of the guerilla war in
any way lessen the force of the physical and moral principles involved.
If mounted men, in defiance of physical facts and the inexorable laws of
the modern game, use shock formations—and shock is the fundamental
condition for the use of the steel—they reduce the personal factor to
its lowest point, and play into the hands of the hostile gunners. As a
matter of fact, the steel-charge upon guns was never tried in any form,
dense or loose, in South Africa, and that, surely, is a sufficiently
conclusive circumstance in itself, when we recollect the numerous cases
in which guns were successfully attacked by mounted riflemen. If most of
these exploits were performed by the Boers, and if they afford undoubted
proof of the superior efficiency of the Boers as mounted riflemen, we
must, none the less, bear in mind the fact that our men had not the same
chance of performing them. The Boers, as they lost both their faith in
Artillery and their resources for maintaining it, grew callous to its
loss, and were wont to abandon guns without a qualm. With ourselves it
is always a point of honour to defend guns _à outrance_. That is an
admirable rule, but it carries with it the obligation on the one hand of
using Artillery only in strict accordance with its positive tactical
utility, and on the other of making sure that its escort is absolutely

Attack on guns brings me naturally to the consideration of mounted
charges, and to that important topic I must devote a separate chapter.

                               CHAPTER XI

From time to time in recent chapters I have noticed cases where the
Boers showed unusual boldness in pressing on horseback, where the nature
of the ground permitted, into decisive rifle-range, sometimes firing
from the saddle as they came, and sometimes actually mingling with our
men. I have noted similar cases of bold mounted aggression in our men,
though without saddle-fire. I purpose now to treat the subject as a
whole, taking the Boers first.

Faint symptoms of this were observable as early as Graspan (November,
1899). Sannah’s Post (March, 1900) was the first occasion, I believe,
where they rode into close quarters in the course of pressing a
rear-guard. The same tactics appear again in November of the same year
at Komati River and elsewhere in the Eastern Transvaal at the dawn of
the Boer renaissance, if we may so term the burst of offensive vigour
which signalized the end of 1900. They are not much in evidence in the
height of that outbreak, because the Boer offence took the form mainly
of attacks (often by night) on fortified posts, where they were neither
necessary nor feasible; but signs of increased boldness in submitting
horses to rifle-fire are visible in all the fights of that period. From
the middle of 1901 onwards, when combats in the open field were the
rule, this tendency took shape in a definite system of tactics.
Curiously enough, these tactics, on their aggressive side, were confined
mainly, though not wholly, to the Transvaal. The Free Staters used the
semi-aggressive or “penetrating” charge freely enough, in order to
escape from drives, but rarely in direct offence. This may have been due
to the influence of De Wet, who nearly always preferred stalking to
rushing. From the point of view of instruction, however, both types are
equally interesting. They differed only in object, not in method.

On March 22, 1901, at Geduld, in the Western Transvaal, three squadrons
of the Imperial Light Horse, under Colonel Briggs, of the King’s Dragoon
Guards, were engaged in a reconnaissance, when, with very little warning
and to the blank astonishment of all who witnessed the scene, several
hundreds of De la Rey’s Boers, under the young General Kemp, in good
order, and firing from the saddle, galloped down upon the extended
skirmishing line of two squadrons. Our men just had time to mount,
retire to a flank, and receive the support of the third squadron, when
the enemy swept over the vacated position, swerved, and disappeared.
This appears to have been a sort of rehearsal for future occasions. The
charge inflicted no loss, but it is also significant that it incurred no
loss. It was not repeated, though the Imperial Light Horse were followed
back for several miles to their camp with vehement attacks, which they
repelled with great coolness and gallantry. This may be noted as an
excellent example of a steady retirement under difficult circumstances
(_Times_ History, vol. v., p. 224).

Twice on later occasions, at Reitz (October, 1901) and at Tigerkloof
Spruit (December 18, 1901), the Imperial Light Horse had to sustain
something in the nature of real mounted charges, in the first case of a
serious character. They repelled them well (_Times_ History, vol. v.,
pp. 393 and 428–431).

Two months after Geduld, at Vlakfontein[52] (May 30, 1901), operating
against a column of all arms under General Dixon, Kemp used the same
tactics with deadly effect, this time employing stratagem to heighten
surprise. A rear-guard of 150 Yeomanry, 100 Infantry, and 2 guns, was
beginning a retirement towards camp. While feinting against other
portions of the columns, Kemp concentrated several hundred men against
this rear-guard. The Boers, having fired the grass to windward, in order
to mask their approach and bewilder their foes, burst through and rode
down the Yeomanry screen, cut to pieces the company of Infantry, and the
gun detachments, and took possession of the guns. No less than 150 of
our men fell killed or wounded in a very short space of time, while the
Boer losses were slight. There was a prompt and vigorous counter-attack
by the rest of the column, which the Boers scarcely waited to receive,
and the guns were recaptured. But the balance of success was with Kemp.
Our column was crippled and Dixon had to retreat by a forced night march
to his base.


Footnote 52:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 281–284.


Let us note certain points, some of general, some of local interest:

1. The Yeomanry engaged on this occasion were inexperienced troops—the
Infantry and gunners, veterans.

2. The Boers, for the most part, remained in the saddle and fired from
it, until they reached close quarters. The terrain, which was open and
unobstructed, permitted this. After dismounting, some dropped the rein
altogether, and some advanced firing, with the rein over the arm. The
same plan was adopted in most of the subsequent charges.

3. There was no “shock,” nor any idea of shock in this or any other
instance of the charge. The lean, undersized Boer ponies were incapable
of it. Shock is incompatible with the destructive use of the rifle, and
this was a massacre with the rifle, short, sharp, and murderous. Even if
it had been possible for a body of steel-armed horsemen using shock
formation to reach close quarters under similar circumstances—and such a
thing was never done or attempted in the whole course of the war—their
destructive power would not be a tithe of that possessed by mounted
riflemen, and their exposure to retaliation infinitely greater. Think of
the physical incidents of the two types of charge, remembering that
shock requires the steel-armed horsemen to remain on horseback, bursting
through the enemy at the first onset, and doing what damage they can _en
route_, and rallying from their disarray at some more or less distant
point for a second charge. Think of the opportunities for retaliation if
a spark of spirit lives in the defence: and the Infantry and gunners in
this case were as firm as rocks.

But, even in making this imaginary contrast—for neither South Africa nor
Manchuria provides any historical contrast—beware of assuming too much.
The Boers had first to drive back and overthrow an extended skirmishing
screen of mounted troops. They could not have done this in dense
formation. Nor could steel-armed Cavalry have done it. Beware, then, of
assuming that these latter, in virtue of their hybrid character, could
effect a tactical transformation in the midst of a rapid, loose action,
where each second was of importance, and close up for shock at the
psychological moment. This is not even practised in peace manœuvres.
It was never done in war, and never will be done in war, not so much
from the purely mechanical difficulties as from the sudden and total
change of spirit required. Wrangel, whom I have quoted before on this
point, is right.[53] The modern horseman cannot serve two masters so
different as the rifle and the steel weapon. He must serve one
faithfully or fail towards both. We profess to secure “thorough
efficiency” in both, an unattainable ideal.


Footnote 53:

  _Vide supra_, p. 41.


4. _Fire from the Saddle._—This, for the most part, was unaimed or but
roughly aimed, and probably did but little damage to the stationary part
of the defence, though the Yeomanry, who had 60 casualties out of 150
men, must have lost appreciably in the course of their rout from more or
less aimed saddle-fire. But the moral effect, in this case, and in all
cases, was the best justification of the practice. Contrast the “terror”
of cold steel, which has so little reality in actual war. Here was the
moral effect of a really terrible weapon, materializing, before the
phase of contact, in bullets which sang over or impinged among the
defence, confusing aim and sighting.

In regard to the purely physical effect, note, especially for future
reference, the opening for aimed or unaimed saddle-fire against horses,
whether in the course of a pursuit of mounted men like the pursuit of
the screen at Vlakfontein, or against groups of “held” horses in rear of
a position, when a few chance bullets may cause a stampede.

5. _Formation._—We have no special details as to Vlakfontein, but I
infer from the narratives that the Boers charged in a very rough line
with fairly wide intervals. Second and third lines were a later
development. Formations, intervals, speed, points for dismounting, etc.,
were dictated, and always must be dictated, by local circumstances. They
admit of no rigid rules.

To resume our historical survey, we find the Boers of the Eastern
Transvaal charging again under Viljoen at Mooifontein (May 25, 1901),
against a convoy column, very ably and steadily handled by Colonel
Gallwey. Though Viljoen’s attacks failed, it is to be noted that he
suffered little loss.

Then comes a long gap of four months, during which the drought of the
South African winter compelled the Boers to remain for the most part on
the defensive. At the end of September, 1901, with the first spring
grass, Botha took the field for the raid on Natal to which I have
already alluded. His first contact with British troops came at Blood
River Poort (September 17), near the Natal frontier, and 100 miles from
his starting-point in the Eastern Transvaal. Here by a skilful stratagem
he decoyed into an exposed position[54] a body of 300 mounted riflemen,
and then, charging down on their flank in one lightning stroke, put out
of action nearly 50 men, captured 3 guns, and forced a general surrender
within ten minutes. Curiously enough, our own force, when the calamity
happened, had just attempted something in the nature of a charge, in
order to overwhelm the small Boer detachment which was acting as
decoy—not a charge “home,” but a rapid ride over open ground into close
range. They had just dismounted to open fire when Botha fell on them.
The incident shows how useless mere audacity and dash are, unless
founded on careful reconnaissance.


Footnote 54:

  This is probably the explanation of what happened. See _Times_
  History, vol. v., pp. 339–340.


We paid dearly for the hesitations and delays which marked our attempts
to envelop Botha on his long and perilous return journey from Natal. He
had held from the first, and maintained to the last, a moral ascendency
which took effect at the end of October (a fortnight after his return),
in one of the most remarkable Boer successes of the guerilla war, and in
one of the chief examples of the charge. This was at Bakenlaagte on
October 30, 1901.[55] At this time Colonel Benson was operating
independently in the midst of the “high veld” of the Eastern Transvaal.
His vigorous night raids upon laagers (alluded to in the previous
chapter) had exasperated the burghers to the last degree. Long on the
look-out for vengeance, they seized upon Botha’s return to make an
appeal to him for co-operation. Botha, at the moment, was seventy miles
away to the east. By forced marching, rapid and thoroughly screened, he
appeared on the field of Bakenlaagte at exactly the right moment,
bringing a reinforcement whose strength must be regarded as doubtful,
but which, at the utmost, did not exceed 500.[56] Probably the whole
Boer force on the field was about 1,000. Benson’s total strength was
1,600 riflemen, of whom 650 were Infantry, and 6 guns.


Footnote 55:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 360–376.

Footnote 56:

  This was our own Intelligence estimate. General Botha, in a recent
  visit to London, informed me that to the best of his recollection he
  brought no more than 250.


The tactical and topographical conditions were closely similar to those
of Vlakfontein. At 2 p.m. a rear-guard of 380 mounted riflemen (this
time seasoned soldiers of the regular Mounted Infantry, Scottish Horse,
etc.), a company of Infantry, and 2 guns, were retiring towards camp.
Other mounted detachments and guns were still out on the flanks. The
main body of Infantry were either in camp or on their way to it. The
weather was wet and misty, the terrain open and undulating. While
demonstrating vigorously all round the perimeter of defence, Botha
ordered a charge against the rear-guard. The Boers, shouting and firing
from the saddle, swept over a mile and a half of ground, overwhelming
the company of Infantry, catching and capturing the rearmost, or
“covering” sections of mounted riflemen, and stopped just short of the
crest of an elevation, afterwards known as Gun Hill, where the guns and
the remainder of the mounted riflemen had hurriedly taken post. Here the
Boers flung themselves from their ponies, and engaged our men at close
quarters (barely thirty yards distance) on foot. The resistance they met
with was magnificent. The defending force had to be almost literally
exterminated before the hill was won and the guns captured.

This action reveals in a pointed way the gulf which divides _arme
blanche_ charges from rifle charges. In the former you must charge
_home_, at all costs, and whatever the nature of the ground. There is no
place in the _arme blanche_ scheme for an assault like that at
Bakenlaagte, where the Boers, with instinctive dexterity and rapidity,
converted themselves in a flash from horsemen into footmen at the right
place and moment, using the dead ground at the foot of Gun Hill for the
protection of their horses during the fire-fight. When the charge began
I do not suppose that one of them knew under what conditions of ground
it would end. The ridge was of gentle gradient and of unobstructed
surface, but, supposing that it had been of a sharp gradient and
encumbered with boulders, these conditions would have made but little
difference to the efficacy of the foot-attack, and might very well have
assisted it. To an _arme blanche_ charge they would have been fatal.
(_Cf._ the Dronfield incident, p. 113.) The same principle will hold
good in every sort of future war, and particularly in European wars,
where open, undulating plains like those of the “high veld” are
extremely rare. To one opportunity for an _arme blanche_ charge there
will be a hundred for rifle charges.

An intermediate example of charging, which illustrates this point about
ground, was given at the small, but sad episode of Tafel Kop in the Free
State (December 20, 1901), where the crest of the hill on which our
troops (90 men and 3 guns) were posted, was in fact steep,
boulder-strewn, and impracticable for horses.[57]


Footnote 57:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 423–427.


The Eastern Transvaalers are found charging again with damaging effect
in the actions of Holland (December 19, 1901), and Bank Kop (January 4,
1902).[58] The latter was the case of a counter-charge under
circumstances very similar to those of Blood River Poort. Their last
exploit of this nature was on April 1, 1902, at Boschman’s Kop, the only
occasion, I think, during the guerilla war where regular Cavalry (though
unequipped with steel weapons) were concerned. The regiment, 312 strong,
with 40 National Scouts, in the course of a night raid, stumbled upon a
concentration of about 800 Boers (I cannot guarantee the numbers, but
give the maximum estimate), who had gathered together to discuss the
question of peace. The surprise for the moment was complete, and the
Boers scattered in all directions; but rallied later in considerable
force and engaged the Cavalry, who had retired to a position about a
mile away. The attack was vehement, with frequent charges into close
range, which were repelled with equal gallantry. At last the Cavalry
flank was turned, and our men had to retire. As long as defensible
positions were available the retreat was steady and methodical, but the
last few miles to camp were a dead-level plain, over which pursuers and
pursued rode as hard as they could, until reinforcements and Artillery
fire from the British camp checked the Boers. In the whole affair, which
was galling, but not in the least discreditable to the Cavalry, they had
seventy-seven casualties, and there is no question that a considerable
number of men succumbed to saddle-fire during the pursuit whom no steel
weapon could have reached. The complaint, it is said, was raised by some
of those present that they had been crippled by the removal of their
swords, and that if they had carried them the result would have been
different. The regiment had only recently arrived in South Africa:
otherwise the mere hint of such a complaint would make one despair of
reform. During something like a year and three-quarters of war the
Cavalry had had countless opportunities—if they existed—of showing the
superior value of the _arme blanche_ in first producing and then taking
advantage of circumstances tactically similar to these. The point is,
that it was impossible to force the Boers to accept combat on the terms
required by steel. It was the rifle which settled the nature of combats.
The Boers had conducted the original fire-fight in loose formation, and
they pursued in loose “swarm” formation. Consider the futility of our
endeavouring, at any phase, to mass into shock formation, with nothing
whatever upon which to exert shock, only to present a helplessly
vulnerable target. If we did not form close shock formation, we
abandoned, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the whole _raison d’être_
of the steel weapon. Individual swordsmen, separated by wide intervals,
are outmatched by capable riflemen, mounted or dismounted. It is a cruel
injustice to our Cavalry to teach them otherwise.


Footnote 58:

  _Ibid._, pp. 455–458.


De la Rey’s district, the Western Transvaal, may be considered as having
been the true birthplace of the charge, and it was here, during the last
period of the war, that it reached its highest development. At
Kleinfontein[59] (October 24, 1901) Kemp galloped down upon the centre
of a column on the march, threw the convoy into confusion, and captured
a dozen waggons, then whirled down upon the rear-guard, and inflicted
severe loss upon it, taking temporary possession of two guns, which, for
lack of teams, the burghers were unable to remove. The remnants of our
men made a splendid resistance, and reinforcements eventually drove the
Boers off. In this action we find the first mention of the use of
successive lines of horsemen for charging.


Footnote 59:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 383–384.


At Yzer Spruit (February 25, 1902) De la Rey ambuscaded and captured
entire a convoy-column, using the mounted charge freely at the crisis of
the action; and ten days later, at the sad disaster of Tweebosch (March
7, 1902), the same General (using three successive charging lines)
routed Methuen’s mounted troops, who in this case were of a very
heterogeneous and unstable kind, and forced a general surrender of the
column. In the stirring action of Boschbult (March 31, 1902), the defeat
of part of our flank screen by a determined Boer charge caused for a
short time an exceedingly critical situation. Later in the day, when
Cookson’s force was concentrated and entrenched, Liebenberg led a plucky
charge against some farm-buildings adequately held by riflemen. This was
a daring departure from the rules governing such attacks, and Liebenberg
paid for it in a sharp repulse.[60]


Footnote 60:

  _Times_ History, vol. v.: Yzer Spruit, pp. 498–500; Tweebosch, pp.
  501–508; Boschbult, pp. 520–522.


But the most dramatic and interesting of the Boer charges was reserved
for the last important action of the war, that of Roodewal (April 11,
1902). It failed, but the cause, manner, and results of its failure are
full of instruction. I wish I had space to recount the episode in full;
but I can only sketch what happened, and ask the reader to refer for a
full account to chapter xix. (section iv.) of the fifth volume of the
_Times_ History.

One of our great mobile driving lines of the latest model, organized in
three divisions, each about 4,000 strong, under the command of General
Ian Hamilton, was sweeping on an immense front across the Western
Transvaal. On the early morning of April 10, the right division, under
Colonel Kekewich, about 4,000 strong and composed of two columns under
Colonels Grenfell and Von Donop, was changing ground to the right (or
west) in accordance with orders to widen the front of the driving line
prior to the day’s operations. The columns were still in closed-up route
formation, Von Donop’s leading, Grenfell’s following, with an advanced
screen of 280 mounted riflemen thrown out to the front. Terrain, a
level, open plain rising almost imperceptibly for about two miles to a
gentle elevation on the farm-lands of Roodewal. Kemp had concentrated in
the course of the night behind this elevation, and at about 7.30 a.m.
was sighted, by our foremost scouts, marching parallel. Whether, when
the action first began, he knew of the massed British columns, is not
clear. Probably he did not. There is ground for the view that he had
mistaken our advanced mounted screen for the flank of a driving line
already fully deployed for the day’s drive in the manner then customary,
and had resolved to roll up part of this supposed line by a

However this may be, he deployed and put into motion a number of men
variously estimated from 1,000 to 1,500, who, in widely extended order,
trotted slowly forward in two very long, arc-shaped lines. As they
approached our advanced scouts, they broke into a canter, and began to
fire from the saddle. Our screen and the pompom with it retired hastily
upon the main body, some forty men being caught and overpowered. The
crest of Roodewal once topped, the main British forces, in column of
route about a mile and a half away, became visible to the Boers and the
Boers to them. Grenfell executed a hurried but fairly orderly deployment
to meet the attack, which was directed mainly against his column. The
South African Constabulary, Scottish Horse and Yeomanry—about 1,200
mounted men in all—were thrown out in a rough defensive line. Von Donop
was slower in deployment, but had to meet only the northerly part of the
Boer line, which split off and attempted a wider and more normal and
deliberate attack. The centre and right—estimated roughly at 800
men—closed in, corrected the convexity of their line with wonderful
precision, and with the brave Commandant Potgieter at their head,
charged straight upon Grenfell. In an episode lasting so few minutes,
and crammed with such breathless excitement, it is impossible to
ascertain relative strength, positions, and formations with positive
accuracy; but it may be taken as fairly correct to say that when the
charge reached a point 600 yards from the British front, it was exposed
to the fire of some 1,500 rifles and 6 guns, and that the Boer
formation—at any rate, in portions of the line—was now very close—some
say almost solid, or “knee to knee”—and from two to four deep. The pace
at this stage, we infer, was the best the small Boer ponies could ever
attain to, and that amounted to little more than the canter of a Cavalry
horse. The plain would not have sheltered a mouse, and it was a clear
day with a bright sun. Under these conditions it would have been strange
if the charge had not been checked, high and wild as much of our fire
was. It faltered appreciably within 300 yards, and stumbled on in
fragments to within 100 yards. Potgieter was shot dead only 70 yards
from our line.

The significant thing was not the failure of this piece of brilliant
recklessness, but that it came so near success, and met with so little
punishment. The Boers retired without disorder, carrying some of their
wounded with them, and leaving on the field fifty dead and thirty badly
wounded men. Our own losses, besides prisoners taken from the advanced
screen, were seven killed and fifty-six wounded, mainly by fire from the
saddle, and from those figures the reader may judge of the moral effect
of this form of fire, coupled with the spectacle of the charge, in
baulking the aim of the defence. It is safe to say that one casualty
inflicted in this way has as much moral effect as three inflicted by men
on foot. But in the physical sphere there was another important effect
of saddle-fire. Grenfell’s column lost, partly from this cause, no less
than 150 horses. Many more stampeded. In other words, the column for the
time being was demobilized, and deprived of any possibility of a
counter-stroke, though a more fruitful opportunity for a counter-stroke
can scarcely be imagined.[61] The weak points in this charge are
apparent. The cardinal factor—surprise—high as it was, was not high
enough to counteract the vulnerability due to comparatively low speed,
in good light, over a bare plain; and the excessively close formation
aggravated this vulnerability. Formation, of course, admits of no
dogmatic rules. There is no insuperable objection to a dense line, if
the surprise is great enough to justify it, and if, when close quarters
are reached, the line is not so dense as to strike too small an area or
impede that free use of the rifle on foot which is the object of the


Footnote 61:

  An hour and a half later a general pursuit was begun by all three
  divisions. It went on for eighteen miles, and resulted in the capture
  of three guns and thirty burghers.


It is never easy to picture an _arme blanche_ charge in direct analogy
to any given rifle charge, because the _arme blanche_ never creates for
itself the opportunities which the rifle creates; but so far as we can
picture an analogy at Roodewal, the advantage is overwhelmingly on the
side of the rifle. Saddle-fire, with its power of demobilizing the
defence long before contact, is a decisive advantage. But would an _arme
blanche_ charge ever have taken place? It is very doubtful. “Cavalry
Training” appears to make provision for a charge over a distance as
great as 1,800 yards, but that is for a shock charge against “Cavalry,”
who are assumed to be in their saddles (pp. 125–128). What of a charge
against Infantry? In the ten lines devoted to that subject (p. 129)
there is a very natural silence on this and many other points. But were
these men of Grenfell’s to be regarded as Cavalry or Infantry? They had
horses, deployed with them and dismounted from them. Suppose them
Cavalry (in the Cavalry sense) who at the last moment declined to engage
in the conventional “shock duel,” and, having brought the charge to a
standstill by rifle-fire, and having retained their full mobility owing
to the absence of hostile saddle-fire, retaliated with a counter-stroke?
But that is not the only perplexity. How were the leaders of the shock
charge to know in advance which course the defending troops would take?
They must decide before starting, for there is no provision in “Cavalry
Training” for changing while in rapid movement from dense shock
formation to the “extended formation” recommended for a charge upon
“Infantry.” If a charge is not a steel-charge they are bound by the
rules of “Dismounted Action,” under which heading, of course, this rifle
charge of the Boers would have to be included. One of these rules is
that extra ammunition is to be served out when such action is
contemplated. Another point: Whichever formation, dense or extended, was
adopted at the outset, Grenfell’s advanced scouting screen, whose inrush
was accountable for a good deal of wild firing in the defence, would
have had little to fear against horsemen using only a steel weapon. They
had only to transform themselves into “Infantry,” and let the storm blow
over. Acting as skilfully as the Boers at Poplar Grove and many other
actions, they would have stopped the charge altogether. For the rest,
whatever the weapon relied on in the charge, the vulnerability of the
surface exposed was the same and the chance of obtaining contact, judged
on a purely physical estimate, no better or worse. On possibilities
after hypothetical contact I need scarcely again enlarge. There would
have been nothing in the firing-line on which to exert true shock, and
palpably men who are doomed to stay in the saddle and execute
complicated and difficult “rallies” are worse off than riflemen on foot.
The latter, taught not to fear cold steel, and acting as directed in
“Infantry Training,” are in the superior position. My argument is not
academical. It is based on the living facts of modern war.

Such were the principal examples on the Boer side of the mounted charge.
But they do not exhaust the list. There were numerous cases—in the Free
State especially (as I remarked above)—of charges for the purpose of
piercing driving lines or block-house lines, interesting, if only for
the light they throw on the effect of fire upon horsemen in rapid
movement. Nor must it ever be forgotten that, in the parlance of mounted
riflemen, the “charge” is only a relative term, which does not
necessarily imply contact. The more rapid the tactical approach, by a
more daring use of the horse, the greater the approximation to the fully
developed charge.

These incidents have received far too little attention. Cavalry writers
have generally ignored them, or alluded to them in terms of
indifference, as curious phenomena in a class of war which scarcely
concerns Cavalry. Mr. Goldman, in the 1909 edition of his translation of
Von Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars,” in the course of a gentle
rebuke to his author for venturing to admire these charges, disposes of
them in a footnote as the work of mere “Mounted Infantry,” and reveals
his imperfect acquaintance with the facts by speaking of the “_one or
two occasions_” on which Boers “brought about a decision by rifle-fire
from their horses” (p. 56). He adds, with unconscious irony, that “he
can recall no instance where they actually charged—_i.e._, endeavoured
to decide the action by _shock_.” Those few words, embodied in their
complacent little footnote, supply a complete revelation of the mental
attitude of the _arme blanche_ advocates towards the tactics of mounted
riflemen. Names are everything, results nothing. Attach the label,
“Mounted Infantry,” and that disposes of the charges, Boer and British,
such as they were, and, since they did not involve “shock,” what were
they, after all? It is true that throughout the whole war there was not
one solitary instance of “shock” in Mr. Goldman’s implied (and, in this
single case, perfectly correct) interpretation of that term. But what
matter? In his view, the Boers never gave the Cavalry a chance of
“discharging Cavalry duties.” Was I wrong in suggesting that the _arme
blanche_ theory dwells in a mental shrine, sacrosanct, unapproachable by

Of a diametrically opposite character, and no less harmful than this
contemptuous indifference, is the idea—often enough expressed by those
who have never studied them—that these charges were non-military
exploits, comparable only to the onslaughts of wild dervishes, a blend
of fanaticism and luck, and no model for sensible, serious soldiers. In
spite of the fact that saddle-fire is officially enjoined at this moment
for “picked men” of the Mounted Infantry, I have heard it spoken of as
though it were on a par with the beating of tom-toms, the throwing of
stones or poisoned arrows and such unsoldierly pranks. For ignorance of
this sort no condemnation can be too strong. Even fanatics may teach us
lessons. But the Boers were no more fanatics than the American troopers
of Forrest and Morgan. They were shrewd, sober, white men, valuing their
lives, parsimonious of their ammunition, for fresh supplies of which
during the guerilla war they had no domestic resources, and by no means
inclined to extravagance or foolhardiness. Their charges demanded not
only dash, but high tactical discipline, a sure instinct for ground and
skilled preparatory scouting. Fire from the saddle requires good
horsemanship and great manual skill. If these be symptoms of fanaticism,
the more fanatics we have in our army, the better.

And what were the results of these charges upon the progress of the war?
Whether for their tactical lessons we dismiss them in footnotes or study
them seriously, let us remember that they, like other aggressive Boer
exploits, cost us many lives, many guns, many prisoners, and an amount
of treasure at which we can only dimly conjecture—probably scores of
millions of pounds.[62] Sannah’s Post in March, 1900, changed the whole
outlook of the Free Staters. To Vlakfontein, coupled with the night
attack at Wilmansrust, can be definitely traced the decision of the
joint Council of War (held on June 20, 1901), to continue hostilities
throughout the winter of that year. But for Bakenlaagte, the
Transvaalers, always the most inclined to peace, might have forced their
will on the sister state, while De la Rey’s successes in the early
months of 1902 imperilled gravely the hopes of peace. Had the Roodewal
charge, made during the progress of negotiations, succeeded, there might
well have been a delay of several more months.


Footnote 62:

  Between May, 1901, and April, 1902, nine principal charging actions
  cost us 2,500 casualties and prisoners and 18 guns. The war cost about
  5½ millions a month.


We on our side never succeeded in carrying the charging principle to the
point to which the Boer veterans carried it. Saddle-fire was not, I
think, in any instance practised. But in aggressive tactical vigour all
our mounted men made remarkable strides during the guerilla war, in
spite of the somewhat deadening effect of the driving system. The rifle
was the inspiration. There was only one instance of an _arme blanche_
charge during that period of the guerilla war in which the Cavalry
carried steel weapons. This was at Welgevonden (February 12, 1901), in
the course of French’s great drive in the Eastern Transvaal, when
Colonel Rimington’s Inniskilling Dragoons got home among a Boer
rear-guard, and disposed of some twenty Boers by death, wounds, or
capture.[63] With this exception, every success we obtained was due to
the dashing use of horse and rifle in combination. I have already
mentioned the cases of Victoria Nek and Bothaville. Wildfontein (March
24, 1901) was an excellent example of an energetic galloping pursuit,
leading to the capture of guns, waggons, and a good many Boers.
Roodekraal (February 3, 1902) led to similar results, and was
distinguished by several genuine mounted charges of the Boer type, in
which New Zealanders and Queenslanders, under Colonel Garratt, took
part.[64] The systematized night-raids described in the previous chapter
generally ended in something of the nature of a charge, in widely
extended order, upon the Boer laager. Other small raids, pursuits and
encounters, in which our men learnt to ride more boldly into
rifle-range, were innumerable.


Footnote 63:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., p. 173.

Footnote 64:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., p. 226, Wildfontein; p. 475, Roodekraal.


As I have often pointed out, this bold riding into a fire-zone is the
principle which lies at the back of the charge. It is a question of
tactical mobility, pure and simple. How far the ride can be carried
rests on local circumstances, on the degree of surprise, on the nature
of the ground to be traversed, on the quality of the enemy’s troops, on
their tactical disposition, and on the character of their defences, if
any. But the whole scheme of offensive tactics is one; the object,
however attained, is always the same—to use the horse as the means of
closing with the enemy as effectively as possible and as quickly as
possible. Infantry, without the horse, pursue the same object. They move
more slowly, but present less vulnerable surface. The horseman’s problem
is to neutralize greater vulnerability by greater speed and a larger
measure of surprise. If we review the war as a whole, we cannot escape
the conclusion that until the last year of hostilities the vulnerability
of horses in rapid movement was exaggerated by both sides, and the
effect produced upon the sighting, aim, fire-discipline, and equanimity
of the defence underestimated. In our own case the error was aggravated
by the fact that we came to the field possessing the tradition of a
mounted charge, but in an obsolete form, inspired by the wrong weapon,
and incapable of being associated with the right weapon—the rifle. This
tradition was destroyed, and never adequately replaced. Outside the
charmed circle of the Cavalry it was often too readily assumed that a
principle had been discredited, not merely the false application of a
right principle. Inside the Cavalry, whatever the various impressions of
the time, the net official result now is to regard the tradition of
shock as intact, and its failure in South Africa as a negligible
incident of an “abnormal” war. The Boers started the war with no
tradition, with a strong prejudice, indeed, against the exposure of the
horse and an exaggerated reliance on the spade for passive defence and
on stalking for offence. Their discipline, moreover, was not good enough
for a form of tactics requiring exceptional discipline. Circumstances,
moral and military, drove them to develop tactical discipline, and with
it a charging tradition, and they attained it in a perfectly healthy,
normal way. Our mounted men, Cavalry included, in so far as they
approached the Boer standard, worked on the same lines of natural

Perhaps I ought to say one word more in regard to one of the strangest
of the many paradoxical arguments which the defence of the _arme
blanche_ has evoked. I mean the complaint which I commented on _à
propos_ of Boschman’s Kop—that the Cavalry were deprived of steel
weapons just when the Boers were developing the charge, the assumption
being, presumably, that but for this modification of armament the
Cavalry would then for the first time have developed equally effective,
if not more effective, _arme blanche_ charging tactics of their own. I
have never seen this view put forward in general terms by any high
Cavalry authority, or, indeed, by any Cavalryman; but it figures among
the nebulous popular arguments upon which the _arme blanche_ thrives,
and it sometimes finds accidental public expression. In July, 1909, an
anonymous correspondent of the _Times_ propounded it as a final and
crushing answer to those who ventured to see something instructive and
important in the Boer charges. Now, in the first place, the view is in
conflict with the facts. The Boers began to charge long before the steel
weapons were discarded. They charged at Sannah’s Post as early as March,
1900, and within view of the Cavalry engaged in that action. They
charged mounted riflemen and attacked Cavalry with great pertinacity in
the Eastern Transvaal during October, 1900; and although no body of
Cavalry was, so far as I know, itself charged on horseback by Boers
during the year 1901, the steel weapon outlived the period of
Vlakfontein, and had not, I think, been more than partly abolished at
the period of Bakenlaagte. But dates are not material. The discouraging
feature of the argument is its total failure to grasp the real nature
and origin of the rifle charge, the elementary physical and moral
principles which distinguish it in tactical form, and, above all, in
tactical spirit, from the shock charge. And behind it, I am afraid, we
recognize an echo of Mr. Goldman’s complaint that the Boers, owing to
fear of the steel, declined to “give battle” with Cavalry on “open
ground.” I cannot pause now to discuss that.[65]


Footnote 65:

  “With French in South Africa,” p. 423. _Vide infra_, p. 285.


We need not exaggerate, as assuredly we must not minimize, the
importance of the mounted charges in South Africa. We must allow for the
fact that the Boers for the most part were veterans in the mounted
rifleman’s art, and that the men against whom they were matched never
reached the same degree of excellence. What we should do is to grasp the
principle, and apply it to the training of our mounted troops,
especially to our professional troops, who are competent to learn
anything to which they apply their minds and wills. Shock, at any rate,
is gone. South Africa gave it its death-blow, and Manchuria, as I shall
show later, buried it for ever. The rifle charge, whether on foot,
mounted, or in any intermediate stage up to direct riding into contact,
remains as a proved, tangible fact. Since 1870 and up to the present day
(1910) shock has been pure theory.

                              CHAPTER XII
                            A PECULIAR WAR?

Such are the facts of the South African War, our only great war since
the Crimea, and the first serious test for the whole world of the
smokeless magazine rifle. What results can we place to the credit of the
_arme blanche_?

1. The pursuit at _Elandslaagte_ (October 21, 1899), on the second day
of hostilities: Boers killed, wounded, and prisoners, say fifty. (No
figures are forthcoming, but I think fifty is on the safe side.)

2. _Klip Drift_ (February 15, 1900): A “penetrating,” semi-aggressive
charge, in widely extended order, by a very large force, with a big
backing of Infantry and Artillery, through a gap in a small hostile
skirmishing screen. Boer casualties about fifteen.

3. _Diamond Hill_ (June 11, 1900): Two brave but insignificant little
charges, which received as much punishment as they gave. Boer casualties
about seventeen.

4. _Welgevonden_ (February 12, 1901): A small charge in the open. Boer
casualties and prisoners about twenty.

Not a single example of true shock.

This gives a record of about a hundred casualties and prisoners due
directly to the _arme blanche_. There may, no doubt, have been a few
others in unrecorded episodes. To be well on the safe side, let us put
the total at 200. All the other damage inflicted by the Cavalry, whether
in offence or defence, was inflicted through the agency of the carbine
or rifle. The opportunities lost through over-training in the steel and
inexperience in the firearm are beyond computation.

With the exception of an unknown, but certainly small, proportion of
casualties caused by Artillery, all the other losses in action, British
and Boer, during the war were caused by the rifle, and all of our own
casualties, close upon 30,000 in number, were (with the same exception)
inflicted by mounted riflemen.

From the first to the last day of the war the rifle dominated every
encounter, small or great, Elandslaagte and the rest included. Awaking
finally to this fact, but at least a year too late, we converted our
Cavalry into mounted riflemen. Every possible function and every
possible species of encounter which mounted men can conceivably
undertake in any war was illustrated again and again. In reconnaissance,
in raids, in protective work and independent work, in pursuit and
retreat, in battle and out of battle, acting as divisions, brigades,
regiments, squadrons, troops, patrols, or as single scouts, the Cavalry
were submitted to every sort of test during more than two and a half
years. All our other mounted troops and all the Boer troops were
submitted to similar tests. Out of it all emerges the single type of
mounted rifleman, competent to do all duties alike, and incapable of
doing any of them well unless he is as skilled in the rifle as he is on
the horse—competent, too, if required, to perform functions never before
dreamt of by any European Cavalry—to make, hold, and storm
entrenchments, and to take his place in the main line of battle.

Here is a mass of evidence, vast, various, cogent. For the last time, I
ask, was the war “peculiar”? Of course it was peculiar. Every war is
peculiar. Terrain differs, races differ, degrees of civilization and
stamps of military organization differ, quarrels and aims differ,
aptitudes and temperaments differ, and, lastly, with the progress of
science, weapons differ. That brings us to the point—the only point
relevant to our inquiry: Were the peculiarities of the Boer War such as
to invalidate the conclusions developed in its course as to the armament
and tactics of mounted troops?

Even that way of putting the question is a little too wide. In Great
Britain, at any rate, one big conclusion is admittedly valid for all
future wars—namely, that the Cavalry must carry a good rifle, not a bad
carbine, and must be able to use it with far more freedom and skill than
they ever dreamed of before the war. We have got that far, and stopped.
Shrinking from anything radical, taking refuge in compromise, we have
fashioned in theory, and only in theory, an ideal hybrid, perfect both
in shock and the rifle, and given him the formula for a hybrid “Cavalry
spirit,” which is quoted at the beginning of this volume. But—and this
reservation is vital—we have taught him in “Cavalry Training” to rely
mainly on shock and the “terror of cold steel,” which “nothing can

That settles the final form of our question: Were the peculiarities of
the war such as to justify the re-establishment of the lance and sword
in their old position as the dominant weapons of Cavalry? Remember the
proved penalties of error, if error there be—the extra weight and extra
visibility of equipment, when every additional ounce of weight and every
additional inch of vulnerable and visible surface tells, to say nothing
of the complications, moral and physical, caused by allegiance to two
diametrically opposite tactical ideals and tactical systems.

The answer we shall give to the question carries with it answers to many
more. Are we justified in reverting to exactly the same old view of
“Mounted Infantry” as existed before the war, and which the war,
regarded as an episode by itself, reduced to ridicule? Was the war so
abnormal that we are still in our handbook of “Mounted Infantry
Training” to lay down, foremost among the purposes for which that arm is
to be employed, the purpose of “forming a pivot of manœuvre for
Cavalry, of supporting them generally with their fire, and ... of giving
to the Cavalry such Infantry support, when they are acting at a distance
from other troops, as will prevent the necessity of the Cavalry
regiments being employed in any other capacity than that of their purely
Cavalry rôle.”[66] Prodigious indeed must be the abnormalities which
would warrant the fresh enunciation of such a "general principle"! Note
the words “Infantry support,” both in their context and in connection
with the opening paragraph of the handbook, to the effect that “Mounted
Infantry are Infantry soldiers governed in their tactical employment by
the principles of Infantry training.” Substitute the synonymous word
“riflemen” for “Infantry” in the three cases where the latter word is
used, and there is, indeed, a substratum of very sound truth in the
proposition. But it is truth which would be heresy to the authorities.
For them, apparently, it was Infantry who, under British leading,
relieved Mafeking, charged at Bothaville and Roodekraal, pursued at the
Biggarsberg and Wildfontein, saved the guns at Sannah’s Post, and
scouted, raided, and screened everywhere. It must have been Infantry,
moreover, disguised as Cavalry, who held the Colesberg lines,
intercepted Cronje on the Modder, and ran to earth Lotter; Infantry,
under Boer leading, who captured a third of the main army’s transport at
Waterval, intervened brilliantly at the climax of the battle of
Paardeberg, ambuscaded and pursued at Sannah’s Post, raided Cape Colony,
Natal, and the railway communications, and charged at Bakenlaagte and
Roodewal. Was the war really so peculiar as to warrant such grotesque
inferences as these? Was a war which produced not a single example of
true shock so peculiar as to justify the vague and unintelligible
instructions to Yeomanry—namely, that they are to be “so trained as to
be capable of performing all the duties allotted to Cavalry except those
connected with shock action”? And what of our mounted forces overseas?
Suppose a war on Colonial soil against a European army—to my mind a far
more likely contingency than a war on European soil—suppose (merely for
the sake of argument) such a war in South Africa, where we should be
aided both by Dutch and British mounted troops. Was the great war of
1899–1902 so peculiar as to warrant our telling the Boer troops or the
Imperial Light Horse that they are not fit “to discharge Cavalry


Footnote 66:

  I am quite aware that under present arrangements our Mounted Infantry
  are allotted the duties of Divisional Cavalry, but this circumstance
  does not affect the general principles laid down for their action,
  which remain the same, and postulate the inferiority of mounted troops
  without steel weapons. The contradiction in terms exhibited by the
  nomenclature only serves to emphasize the confusion of thought


There is a big case, an authoritative case, an overwhelmingly convincing
case, founded on a reasoned analysis of the campaign, to be made out
here by the advocates of the _arme blanche_ if they are to justify
existing practice. When, where, and by whom has this authoritative case
been presented? I am at a loss to say. Directly we begin to grapple with
this allegation of abnormality we find we are fighting with phantoms,
with nebulous, elusive, and often mutually contradictory arguments held,
some by one person, some by another. I scarcely know how far I need
engage in this ghostly conflict. I have exhorted the reader from the
first, in following my review of the war, to picture for himself
parallel situations in a European war, distinguishing relevant from
irrelevant peculiarities, and, without being led astray by mere names
and labels, to test weapons and the tactical theories based on them by
facts. I have endeavoured to assist him by analysis and comment, and I
believe at one time or another I have dealt with every abnormality which
is alleged to quash the verdict against the _arme blanche_. But I am not
sanguine enough to hope that I have carried conviction, and I venture
now to deal once more in a separate chapter with the allegation as a
whole. In order to narrow the controversy within incontestably sound and
fair limits, I will take the three powerful advocates of the _arme
blanche_ to whom I alluded in my first chapter, and from whom I have
since frequently quoted—General Sir John French, Mr. Goldman, and
General von Bernhardi. The last we may regard as the most powerful of
all, since his book, “Cavalry in Future Wars,” translated by Mr.
Goldman, and furnished with an introduction by General French, is not
only described by the latter officer as being the last word of logic and
wisdom on all Cavalry matters without exception, but has been largely
drawn upon in practice by the compilers of our own “Cavalry Training.”

In General French’s long and warmly written introduction, levelled
avowedly against the “misleading conclusions” of those who criticize
shock, only one short passage is to be found in which the South African
War—our own great war—is so much as alluded to, and then only to be
dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders as almost irrelevant to the
controversy. Both the allusion and its context are, I am afraid, rather
obscure, so I give the paragraph in full:

  “In dwelling so persistently upon the necessity for Cavalry being
  trained to the highest possible pitch to meet the enemy’s Cavalry, I
  do not wish to be misunderstood. I agree absolutely with the author in
  the principle he lays down that the Cavalry fight is only a means to
  an end, but it is the most important means, and I have thought it
  right to comment upon this because it is a principle which in this
  country, since the South African War, we have been very much inclined
  to overlook. _To place a force of Cavalry in the field in support of a
  great army which is deficient in the power to overcome the opposing
  Cavalry_, is to act like one who would despatch a squadron of
  war-vessels badly armed, badly trained, and ill-found, to blockade a
  distant coast-line defended by a powerful fleet. What is the naval
  fight in the open sea but a means to an end? It would be as sensible
  to dwell on the inutility and waste of a duel between hostile fleets
  as to lay down the principle that the ‘Cavalry battle’ in no way
  affects the mutual situation of hostile armies” (p. 26).

Sincerely desirous of understanding the General’s meaning, I confess
that this passage baffles me, and I scarcely know what it would convey
to a reader fresh from the study of our war. Do the words which I have
italicized imply that the non-Cavalry portion of our “great army,” the
Infantry and Artillery, were not worthy of the “support” of our Cavalry,
and denied that arm a chance of distinguishing itself in the “Cavalry
fight”—that is, presumably the shock fight? That cannot be the sense
intended, for the imputation not only would never be made by General
French, but is in itself indefensible. I need not argue that proposition
again. If any narrative of the war does not disprove it to the most
cursory reader, my previous narrative and comments would add no further

We must arrive at some other interpretation; and yet there seems to be
no other that does not involve the writer in self-refutation. Read
literally, the sentence compares “a force of Cavalry” (sent out under
the circumstances described) to a squadron of war-vessels badly armed,
badly trained, and ill-found, while the unequal naval fight with the
“great fleet,” which results, is intended surely to be analogous to the
“Cavalry fight.” Both are “means to an end”—in the one case to landing
and invasion, in the other to the destruction of a hostile army. In the
last sentence the simile becomes more precise, the “duel” between
hostile fleets being expressly likened to the “Cavalry battle,” and very
aptly likened, if we do not assume with General French that the Cavalry
battle must inevitably be a shock battle. It is true that in the case of
the South African War the simile is impaired by the fact that the
“opposing Cavalry,” constituting as they did the entire hostile force,
cannot be regarded as the counterpart of our Cavalry. But, disregarding
that material point, where does the simile lead us? To the conclusion
that our Cavalry were badly armed, badly trained, and ill-found. That is
admittedly true of armament and training; for the rifle has been
permanently substituted for the carbine, and “thorough efficiency” in
its use officially enjoined ever since, while the steel weapon, during
the war, failed. “Ill-found” might refer to horses. But the General, as
the context shows, does not mean to take this dangerous line of
argument. Who, then, were the troops referred to? No part of the army
was “ill-found” by comparison with the Boers, who in most of the
resources possessed by great and wealthy nations were miserably
ill-found, and were reduced for the last year to destitution. “Badly
armed,” except in the case of the Cavalry, is another misnomer. The
Infantry were armed with the best modern rifle, and although the
Artillery at first found their guns outranged, they soon received the
aid of naval and other heavy guns, and always had an overwhelming
numerical superiority over the Boers. “Badly trained” does, indeed,
apply in a certain sense to the whole army, particularly to its
practical organization for war. But it applies, too, to the Boers, and
in the latter respect far more pertinently.

I have no desire idly to split straws. If the passage I have quoted
formed part of a reasoned argument for the abnormality of our great war,
I agree that it would be unfair to make too much of a case of obscure
exposition. But it stands alone, and I am justified in criticizing the
attitude of mind which permits so high a Cavalry authority as General
French, in an essay part of which is explicitly directed against the
advocates of mounted riflemen, to treat so vaguely and superficially the
great national struggle which, for the time being, at any rate, did
confirm their views. My justification is the greater in that such an
attitude of mind is strictly typical of a great number of the adherents
of the shock system. Pressed, they are altogether unable to put into
precise language their reasons for disregarding the Boer War. In a later
chapter, when dealing with the Manchurian War, I shall have to refer to
General French’s equally inadequate treatment of the theme of another
case of abnormality.

In the meantime I can do no better than take two propositions from the
paragraph quoted above, about which there can be no doubt. (1) A
“Cavalry battle” without shock is inconceivable to General French. There
must be either shock or no battle, for surely no opponent of shock would
go so far as to argue that, shock being a thing of the past, it was
“inutility and waste” for opposing sets of mounted troops to fight with
one another at all, in any way? We have here, in an unusually extreme
form, that theory of the inevitable shock duel between opposing
Cavalries to which I alluded in my second chapter. It occurs again on
page xxii of the same Introduction.

  “How, I ask, can the Cavalry perform its rôle in war until the enemy’s
  Cavalry is defeated and paralyzed? I challenge any Cavalry officer,
  British or foreign, to deny the principle that Cavalry, _acting as
  such against its own arm_, can never attain complete success unless it
  is proficient in shock tactics.”

Here is the case complete, but, alas! strangely qualified by the words I
have italicized. Is there some _arrière-pensée_ here? What if the
hostile Cavalry, like the Boers, do not believe in shock? Surely, the
case thus stated begs the whole question at issue. Observe that the
underlying axiom is that the steel can always impose tactics on the
firearm. Contrast this axiom with the facts of the Boer War, where the
Boers were the “opposing Cavalry,” and were admittedly strong enough,
though in what way we are not told, to throw into prominence the many
defects of the great army sent to overcome them. And, by the way, we may
remind the General that it _did_ overcome them in the end, mainly
through the improvisation of mounted riflemen (whom he ignores
altogether), and through the assimilation of the Cavalry to that type.

(2) The other clear deduction from the paragraph is this, that the Boers
were, on the whole, from whatever cause, a formidable enemy. They are
compared to a powerful fleet, and we are represented, in whatever
capacity, as suffering from certain weaknesses. That is the general
colour of the argument, and I draw the reader’s attention to it, because
the gist of Mr. Goldman’s argument is of a precisely opposite character;
and this contradiction, in one form or another, runs through all the
hazy generalizations that one hears expressed in public or private on
the topic of abnormality.

To the best of my belief, Mr. Goldman is the only writer who has had the
courage to set forth categorically, in the form of a reasoned argument
designed expressly to prove the superiority of Cavalry over mounted
riflemen, the various grounds for regarding the South African War as
abnormal. He does this in his Appendix A. to “With French in South
Africa” (1903), and again in his preface to Von Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in
Future Wars.”

Before examining these grounds it is essential to know what Mr. Goldman
means by a “mounted rifleman.” Here is his appreciation, on page 408 of
the former book: “... the horseman armed only with a rifle. We may
assume that he has received the special Cavalry training aforesaid, and
that in every way he is qualified to perform the duties of Cavalry.” (I
do not know what to make of this curious admission.) “But he is equipped
solely to fight on foot. Hence, no sooner does it become necessary for
him to assume the offensive than he is forced to dismount, and from that
moment his rate of progress depends solely upon the pace he can walk.”

Truly, a poor creature! But we think of South Africa and rub our eyes.
Was this the figure cut by mounted riflemen, Boer and British, in South
Africa? It may be said without exaggeration that all the “offensive”
mounted work was done by mounted riflemen or by Cavalry acting as such.
And think of the charges—Bakenlaagte, for example. At what moment did
Botha’s men begin to “assume the offensive”? According to Mr. Goldman,
when they “dismounted.” And when was that? Within point-blank range of
our guns, after a charge of a mile and a half.

To proceed with the quotation: “Moreover, he has given hostages to
fortune. His led horses being an easy prey to a handful of mounted
horsemen, he cannot leave them far behind, for, should he lose them, his
usefulness for reconnoitring purposes is gone; the opposing Cavalry will
merely push on and through the gap he has left in his screen.” We rub
our eyes again. When did Boer led horses fall a prey to Cavalry, acting
as “Cavalry”? Not in a single instance. As for the idea that the mounted
rifleman is handicapped for “reconnoitring purposes”—after all the
bitter losses and humiliations from which we suffered in South Africa
through imperfect reconnaissance, one can only regard the suggestion
with respectful amazement. Similarly with the suggestion about “pushing
through gaps in screens.” This, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is
what the Cavalry could _not_ do. Their inability to do it was the
predominant characteristic of all the fighting in which they were
engaged—with one only apparent exception—the Klip Drift charge, where
the screen was not a screen, but an isolated skirmishing line of 900 men
and 2 guns, which was pierced without shock, and almost without
bloodshed, by 5,000 horsemen, covered by the fire of 56 guns, and
supported by a division of Infantry.

To proceed: “It must be remembered that the mounted rifleman cannot
fight on horseback. He has no weapon for that purpose, so that his only
means of taking the offensive is to act on foot.... If in open country,
the mounted rifleman cannot hope to meet the Cavalryman mounted. In
these circumstances he is practically unarmed; for the firmest believer
in the rifle will scarcely maintain that the rifle-fire of mounted men
is a serious quantity; anyone who has experienced it knows how perfectly
ineffective it is.” Well, I leave the reader to judge of the soundness
of all this, in view of our experiences in South Africa. It reads like a
dream. Is it, to say the least, an adequate treatment of the theme?
Surely it would be wiser to make some overt reference to the fine
examples of aggressive mobility shown by our Colonial irregulars, or to
the Boer charges, if only for the sake of proving their negligibility.
This particular passage may have been written before Mr. Goldman (whose
narrative of the war ends at Komati Poort) had had full opportunity to
study final developments, but his book was published in 1903; he was
cognizant when he wrote, at any rate, of Sannah’s Post, and in his
preface to, and notes upon Bernhardi (1906 and 1909), he maintains an
equally icy silence upon the achievements of mounted riflemen in South
Africa, until a passage of warm praise from Bernhardi himself extorts
from him the footnote, inaccurate as to facts and mistaken in criticism,
which I quoted in the last chapter (p. 254).

I need not pursue this quotation further. The writer eventually admits
that in an “enclosed country” (what of the South African terrain?) the
mounted rifleman has a certain value, but the most he will yield is that
here the “mounted rifleman and the Cavalryman are on an equality.”
Truly, an astonishing conclusion! Surely part of this Appendix must have
been written before the war and left unrevised? Even then the writer was
old-fashioned, for the Mounted Infantry Regulations of 1899, while
warning that arm in a general way that they “needed the assistance of
Cavalry,” told them that when they cannot get this assistance, their
“best security was to be keeping in broken, intersected, woody, or
marshy ground, where they would have a _great advantage over Cavalry_.”
It is indisputable that men who spend their whole time in practising
rifle-tactics, must be more efficient than men who spend half or more
than half their time on shock-tactics. The strange thing is, that Mr.
Goldman, in another connection, himself quotes the official warning with
approval, as putting the mounted riflemen in their right place. Yet, we
may well ask, when in South Africa did mounted riflemen ask for the
assistance of Cavalry—that is to say, of Cavalry “as such,” to use
General French’s expression? How often, on the other hand, did Cavalry,
as such, ask for the support of mounted riflemen, as such?

And these mounted riflemen of ours, who came in so many thousands from
so many lands, to do such splendid and such absolutely indispensable
work for the Empire? Not a single allusion to them either in this essay
or in the Preface to Bernhardi. Boers alone are used for illustration.
Anyone without knowledge of the war would infer that the whole of the
mounted work on our side had been done by Cavalry. Nor is the conversion
of the Cavalry themselves into mounted riflemen mentioned.

One further question of definition before I proceed to the
“peculiarities” of the war. What does Mr. Goldman mean by “shock”? He
does not define it, nor does “Cavalry Training,” wisely enough, attempt
a definition; but under the heading “Shock Action” (p. 410), he adduces
as an example of shock the Klip Drift charge, where the Cavalry files
were eight yards apart, and the immediate objective of the charge was a
sprinkling of extended skirmishers. I should weary the reader if I again
exposed this fallacy at length. Shock means impact. This charge was not
shock, by any interpretation of that word, nor in the sense in which
Bernhardi or any European Cavalry understands it. It was the right
pattern of charge, but, as after experience proved, it was essentially
the pattern of charge appropriate to mounted riflemen, and it was
through blindness to this fundamental difference that the Cavalry never
made another like it.

Now for Mr. Goldman’s “abnormalities.”

1. _Terrain._—To take this point first, as the least important. Indeed,
I scarcely know whether to take it seriously or not. It is rarely
expressed elsewhere, and I think Mr. Goldman himself regards it as a
desperate resource. After saying, broadly, that “certain physical and
local conditions go far to explain why the Cavalry were not more
effective with the lance and sabre,”[67] he complains that the
“boundless plains” were “seamed with ridges and watercourses,” while
“the shock-tactics of Cavalry require open ground free from large
obstructions like rocky kopjes, thick bush, and strong fences” (_i.e._,
wire fences, which, as he admits, were easily cut, and in time became no
hindrance). But, while condemning, apparently, the whole of the
Transvaal, he cautiously admits that in the Free State “the conditions
were favourable.” Was there ever a more remarkable example of
under-statement? What does he expect? Where is his ideal battle-ground
of the future? Taken as a whole, South Africa, though its rolling plains
were not quite so flat or so free from fences and dongas as the plains
of Northern Manchuria, may be regarded as one of the most perfect
manœuvring grounds for Cavalry which the civilized world contains. Of
course, there were “obstructions” even in the most favourable areas,
and, of course, these obstructions had a way of coming into prominence
when fighting was afoot. Battles are not fought on billiard-tables. One
side or the other usually seeks defensible positions. And why should
Cavalry complain of irregularities? How effect surprise on a dead-level
plain? It was by _using_ irregularities that mounted riflemen won their
most brilliant successes in South Africa. Shock is extinct, precisely
because the ground which it imperatively demands makes Cavalry most
vulnerable to fire and least capable of surprise.


Footnote 67:

  “With French in South Africa,” p. 422.


2. _Bad Condition of Horses and Poor Remounts._—I dealt with this point
in Chapters VI. and VII. The difficulties of the long voyage and
acclimatization, and the imperfections of the remount system, are well
known. A preventable cause of wastage, careless management and riding,
is also scarcely disputed. On the debatable point of over-weight, Mr.
Goldman, in a separate Appendix, contends that the horses were
needlessly over-loaded. All causes together do not explain away tactical
facts covering two years. The more closely these facts are
scrutinized—even those of actions like Poplar Grove, where the excuse
has been most loudly raised—the less adequate the explanation. On
inspection it always turns out that the enemy’s skill with the firearm,
and our own deficiencies in that respect, are the principal cause of
imperfect achievement. Where the Cavalry showed skill with the firearm
there they obtained their tactical successes, irrespective of the
condition of their horses. In the excellent Colesberg operations no
complaint was raised about the horses. When were sabres drawn? Once, but
without result, owing to delaying rifle-fire. In the arduous operations
for the relief of Kimberley, when the horses were at their worst, the
Cavalry achieved their most important success, by intercepting and
containing Cronje. On the strategical aspect of these operations, the
use of lance and sabre, as combatant weapons, had no bearing whatever.
Men do not ride better or quicker for carrying steel weapons; on the
contrary, the extra weight and the habits instilled by the shock theory
are a hindrance to mobility. Tactically, the Cavalry succeeded or failed
in proportion to their skilful or unskilful use of carbine and horse
combined; succeeded signally at the Drifts, where they held up Cronje;
failed signally in the pursuit north from Kimberley. On the Natal side,
the Cavalry horses were as fresh at Talana, a case of failure, as at
Elandslaagte, the solitary case of a successful charge. As for Poplar
Grove, which Mr. Goldman singles out for illustration, let me give his
own words: “How could horses pursue a fleet and mobile enemy after a
long day’s engagement, in which they had covered forty miles, and had
turned the Boers out of position after position?” How indeed? Does Mr.
Goldman seriously expect or demand that in our next war, after four
months of hostilities we shall be provided with super-horses capable of
the kind of feat suggested—that is, of beginning a galloping pursuit
_after_ fighting over forty miles of country? But this is a case where
the reading of facts makes such a difference. In point of fact the
_conditions of pursuit_ began to be present after twelve miles. The full
forty miles can only be arrived at (as I pointed out in my narrative) by
counting the unnecessary détours and countermarches caused by failure to
break down or ride past trivial flank and rear-guards. In these and many
other later operations I have pointed out the intimate connection
between horse-wastage and deficiency in direct aggressive power.

From the capture of Bloemfontein to the end of the war the complaint
about horses has less and less force. The remount system, of course, was
greatly improved. Although the difficulty of acclimatizing foreign
animals was never properly overcome, owing to the ceaselessly voracious
demands of the field-columns, horses poured into South Africa from all
quarters of the globe at an enormous rate, while no less than 158,000
native South African ponies (exclusive of large numbers captured on the
veld) were supplied by the Remount Department. Whatever the condition of
the horses from time to time, the tactical incidents are of the same
general character. Nor, it need scarcely be added, was the disability
confined to the Cavalry. All our mounted troops were similarly affected,
and the Boers, in spite of their possession of the hardy native pony,
must be regarded as being on the whole in a worse position. From first
to last they were confined to their domestic supply, and, as I have
pointed out, from Paardeberg onwards they suffered considerably from
shortage of horses.[68] Their advantages were a light load and good


Footnote 68:

  On the subject of horses see _Times_ History, vol. vi., part ii.,
  chapter vi. The total number provided for the British army was 518,794
  (mules 150,781). The net wastage accounted for was in horses 347,007
  (mules 53,339). The Boers took the field with 50,000 to 60,000 horses,
  which were renewed several times. Their net wastage is estimated
  conjecturally at 100,000.


Lastly, let me remind the reader of what I believe to be the real gist
and essence of this complaint about horses. The theory of shock among
several other rigorous conditions presupposes the presence at any and
every moment of fresh horses capable of bearing down upon their
objective at a gallop, and during the last fifty yards at the “charge,”
and in perfect formation. This condition alone is enough to make shock a
negligible factor in future wars—_if_, that is, Cavalry are going to
play the great part in war which they should play, but which they have
not played for the last forty years. Mounted riflemen are subject to no
such conditions, and would lose half their value if they were. Picture a
Boer charge—the little grass-fed ponies breaking from their “trippling”
trot to what would correspond in European Cavalry to a moderate canter.

3. _Lack of Opportunity._—From ground and horses we pass to the more
important part of Mr. Goldman’s case for “abnormality.”[69] Though he
never admits that Cavalry work fell short in any respect in South
Africa, he is evidently conscious that this perfection needs much
special proof, and he falls back on the proposition that they did not
have a proper chance of distinguishing themselves in their own special
line. Two absolutely distinct causes—the one domestic, the other
external—are represented as having produced this lack of opportunity:

(_a_) They were not employed properly—_i.e._, as the context shows, by
Lord Roberts in particular, though he is not named.

(_b_) That the Boers, owing to their habit of retiring without “fighting
to a finish,” did not permit the Cavalry to “discharge Cavalry duties.”


Footnote 69:

  I ought, perhaps, to allude to another argument which appears in Mr.
  Goldman’s Preface to Bernhardi, though it is expressed in very vague
  terms, and the meaning is beyond me: “The Cavalry, after the first few
  weeks of 1900, as an effective force had practically ceased to exist.”
  Figures of strength and disposition will be found in my previous


I have alluded in previous chapters to both these points. Let me add a
word more.

As to (_a_), Mr. Goldman’s argument is vitiated from beginning to end by
that old confusion between strategy and tactics, between mobility and
combat, which lies at the root of _arme blanche_ doctrine. The express
point he is arguing, remember, is the relative value of Cavalry and
mounted riflemen, of the steel weapon and the firearm, or, to be more
accurate, the steel weapon plus the firearm, and the firearm alone. Now,
the horse, whether used strategically or tactically, is common to both
types. Weapons are used only in combat. We are concerned, then, purely,
with a question of weapons and of combat. Strategy only concerns us in
that the ultimate end of all strategy is combat. If there were to be no
combat, equipment for a strategical errand would be vastly simplified.
We should discard all weapons and all ammunition, and use the lightest
men we could possibly find. In defending the steel weapon, therefore,
and in showing that it had not its proper opportunities, we should
expect to find Mr. Goldman dwelling on tactical opportunities. Quite the
reverse. His complaint—both in the Appendix to his own book and in his
Preface to Bernhardi—is that the Cavalry were denied strategical
opportunities. If he proved this up to the hilt, he would not have
furthered the _arme blanche_ theory one whit. But does he prove it?
“Strategical” is, of course, ambiguous, but let us follow his loose
employment of the word in calling the Kimberley raid “strategical.” He
would not—and, indeed, does not—contend that at that period Roberts
denied the Cavalry independent opportunities. He begins with the general
advance of May, 1900.

But, again, we must pause to define the terms we are using. Mr.
Goldman’s definition of the “strategical use of Cavalry” is on page 412
of “With French in South Africa”: “The use of that arm in such a fashion
that, _without of necessity engaging in any tactical action_, certain
well-defined effects are produced.” Note the words I have italicized,
for they prepare the way in advance for Mr. Goldman’s appreciation of
the action of Zand River, which he gives as a “concrete case to explain
his argument.” “At that action French’s Cavalry division was employed on
the extreme left flank of the army to produce _a purely tactical
effect_.... His operations _could only, and did only_, have the effect
of causing the enemy gradually and in perfect order to withdraw from the
position commanding the river.... The effect was _purely tactical_, for
the early withdrawal of the enemy, unbeaten, undemoraiized, gave no
chance to Cavalry shock action.” What is the inner meaning of this
contempt for “purely tactical effects”? Simply this, that our Cavalry,
owing to their armament and methods, were outmatched in combat by the
Boers. Let the reader examine once more the facts and maps of this
action in the “Official History,” the _Times_ History, Mr. Goldman’s own
narrative, or any other. He will see that “could only” and “did only”
are synonymous terms to Mr. Goldman. Eight thousand Boers held a
twenty-five mile front, with their main strength in the centre and left,
against nearly 40,000 British troops, of whom 13,000 were mounted.
Aiming at envelopment and destruction, Roberts gave the Cavalry a
supremely important tactical object. Of the two turning forces employed,
two brigades of Cavalry, supported by 2,200 mounted riflemen, were to
make an extensive sweep round the Boer right flank, and gain an
intercepting position at Ventersburg Road Station. The Cavalry got well
round to the rear in very good time (for the movement was a complete
surprise to Botha), but were subsequently checked by small flank-guards.
One brigade was badly mauled, and the whole division was delayed long
enough to enable Botha to withdraw his whole force in safety. The Lancer
brigade, near the railway, and next in line to French’s division, though
lightly opposed, showed no greater aggressive capacity (see “Official
History,” vol. iii., p. 56, and map), and the same applies to the
remaining Cavalry brigade on our extreme right. Mr. Goldman is content:
there could not have been any “tactical effect.” The logical inference
is that Cavalry can have no tactical value at all.[70] For he does not
suggest _any tactical_ alternative for them. One tactical retort to
these immense Boer extensions was, as I indicated, a piercing movement;
but Mr. Goldman makes no such suggestion, although in the same Appendix
(under “Security and Information”) he expressly gives as one of many
normal Cavalry functions that of “piercing the opposing Cavalry screen
with a division or divisions cut loose from the main army.” As I have
pointed out, for purposes of analogy, the Boer army on this, as on so
many other occasions, did represent a Cavalry screen.


Footnote 70:

  This, as I shall show in the next chapter, is precisely the conclusion
  reached unconsciously by Bernhardi, and consciously by Wrangel. Their
  only tactical rôle _with the steel_ is in the “collision of Cavalry
  masses”—_i.e._, between masses of Cavalry who both believe in the
  steel and engage on that understanding.


And what is his suggested strategical alternative? This, that the
Cavalry division should have been, say, “100 miles to the north of the
main army, moving south, while our main army moved north.” The effect on
the “ill-disciplined Boer troops” would have been “incalculable,” and
then, in some unexplained way, would have come the “opportunity for the
shock tactics of Cavalry.” How wonderfully simple war seems to Mr.
Goldman, and how carelessly he must have read his master, Bernhardi, who
makes short work of this conception of miraculously easy and effective
raids in modern war! But let us look a little closer. The Cavalry had
arrived from Bloemfontein at Smalldeel, freshly remounted, on the 8th.
On the 9th French’s two brigades covered twenty miles of their turning
movement. On the 10th, the day of the battle, they covered upwards of
thirty miles, and their horses were too tired for them to be able to act
on the suggestion of Roberts for an enveloping march that same night
round the Boer army and to the north of Kroonstad. Starting at 6.30 a.m.
next day, they were too late to produce any important results.

The tasks set the Cavalry, whether we call them strategical or tactical,
were as heavy and responsible as the most ardent leader could desire.
This craving for grandiose strategical “effects” without combat is
thoroughly unhealthy and distorted. I venture to lay down the
proposition that no Cavalry has a right to complain of strategical
mishandling until it has proved beyond question high combative capacity.
With carbines and inadequate fire-training this high standard was beyond
the reach of the Cavalry. It has been said that Roberts misused them in
the Middelburg operations of July 23–25, 1900. Study the facts. French
had planned a very extensive circuit. Roberts, who had no spare mounted
troops for his main columns, prescribed a shorter curve. On the 24th
both Cavalry Brigades, even with the help of Hutton’s mixed force of
3,000 men, were held up for four hours by a small rear-guard.
Casualties, two men wounded. It is impossible to assume that a wider
circuit against so mobile an enemy would have produced important

Genuine strategical independence for a purely Cavalry force, on the
lines of the great Civil War raids, was never in question during this
period, and would have been useless if feasible.[71] The nearest
approach to such an expedition was the futile divisional march of 173
miles across the Eastern Transvaal in October, 1900, where some Infantry
and a few mounted riflemen, besides masses of ox transport, accompanied
the column. There was no mobility worth the name; the column became
nothing more than an escort to its own transport. The Kimberley raid was
not, of course, one of strategical independence. The division as a whole
was never more than twenty miles from large portions of the main army,
and was not rationed independently for a longer period than three days.
Kimberley was a friendly town, and after the return of the main army, on
which the force was dependent for all but temporary supplies, forage ran
out owing to De Wet’s stroke at Waterval. Mounted riflemen were
associated with Cavalry, and the Cavalry themselves won success by
acting well as mounted riflemen.


Footnote 71:

  See Bernhardi’s warning, “Cavalry in Future Wars,” pp. 169, 170.


Mr. Goldman’s idea that hundred-mile circuits would end in
“opportunities for shock” is utterly chimerical. It is against all
evidence, from this war and others, European, American, or Asiatic, and
Bernhardi scouts it.[72] The ride from Kimberley on February 15,
selected by Mr. Goldman as a case where for once “Cavalry” were used in
a proper “strategical” manner, did not end in shock; on the contrary, it
ended in tactical fire-action pure and simple. The chance for
interception was of the same tactical character at Zand River. In point
of fact, at one moment during the latter action an attempt was actually
made at an open-order Cavalry charge, by a brigade against about 200
Boers.[73] It came to nothing. And the reason, as given by Mr. Goldman
and the Official Historian? Horses too much blown. And yet Mr. Goldman
cries out for hundred-mile expeditions which are to culminate—with fresh
horses—in shock.


Footnote 72:

  “Cavalry in Future Wars,” p. 51. Non-frontal pursuits, especially
  “strategical” pursuits, are to be by fire-action.

Footnote 73:

  Mr. Goldman’s estimate. The _Times_ Historian speaks of a “party,” the
  Official History a “commando.” The total force detached by Botha
  against the division was certainly very small.


No one, of course, would go so far as to assert positively either of
Roberts or of any Commander-in-Chief in any war that he never once
missed an opportunity for the strategical use for _mounted troops_. That
is a different matter altogether. The issue lies between steel-armed
troops and the mounted riflemen, whom Mr. Goldman ignores. Why not a
bare allusion to Plumer’s brilliant defence of Rhodesia, or to the
relief of Mafeking—a strategical march of 250 miles in fourteen days,
with fire-fights _en route_, by irregulars?

With regard to General Buller’s use of Cavalry I need add nothing to my
criticisms in Chapters VIII. and IX. His fault was to carry disbelief in
the steel for the Boer War to the extent of disbelieving in Cavalry
altogether for that war, a wholly unwarrantable point of view, derived
from an equally distorted conception of the utility of Cavalry.

(_b_) _Refusal of the Boers to Stand._—The facts speak for themselves.
Only by avoiding the whole topic of Boer aggression, and by treating
Boer rear-guard skill as a non-Cavalry quality which “made pursuit
practically impossible,” is the point even arguable. Indeed, I approach
it again with the utmost reluctance; for Mr. Goldman’s _idée fixe_ that
the Boers were from first to last mortally afraid of the lance and sword
carries him to lengths where no upholder of mounted riflemen who
respects and admires the Cavalry and attacks only their weapons and
methods can consent to follow him. I shall refrain from making
controversial use of these passages, and shall confine myself, briefly,
to less difficult ground.

Mr. Goldman is probably thinking mainly of the operations of Lord
Roberts, though his proposition is general (p. 420). He would scarcely
contend that the Boers did not “stand” from November, 1899, to March,
1900, on the Tugela heights, or that they did not show positively
aggressive qualities and outmatch our Cavalry at Talana and the battle
of Ladysmith. With all his belief in the steel, he would scarcely in set
terms allege that regular Cavalry would have defended or attacked Spion
Kop or Pieter’s Hill better than they were in fact defended and
attacked. But these were tactical occasion, presumably with no “tactical
effects” to be produced. What, then, of Elandslaagte?

As for the main operations under Lord Roberts, has Mr. Goldman ever
seriously reflected upon the relative numbers engaged? Of course, the
Boers frequently showed moral weakness—we ourselves were not exempt—but
they did not fear the _sword_. Assuredly they “stood” at Paardeberg to
their ruin; but was there shock at Paardeberg? Assuredly they may be
said to have stood at Dornkop and at the two days’ battle of Diamond
Hill, where Cavalry were hotly engaged, and at Bergendal, where
seventy-four Boer Cavalry (though Mr. Goldman would never admit they
were “Cavalry”) delayed an army and were ejected by Infantry. In the
other actions of this period, as I have pointed out, their retreats were
conducted in an orderly manner and with small loss.

Let me lay down another proposition, which I believe all Cavalrymen will
agree to. No one on behalf of Cavalry has a right to make a general
complaint of pusillanimity or insufficient resistance on the part of the
enemy, unless (_a_) that enemy has had something approaching numerical
equality; or (_b_) has been forced into disastrous retreats, with loss
of guns, transport, etc.; or unless (_c_) the Infantry and mounted
riflemen associated with the Cavalry have not been seriously engaged. On
this latter point the facts of the war and statistics of losses are
decisive. There is something that makes the brain a little dizzy about
the first two conditions, but the whole case for the _arme blanche_
teems with paradoxes which can only be met by the method of _reductio ad

Finally, I ask again, as I asked above, what is the real meaning of this
complaint about lack of resistance? Simply this, that the Boers would
not engage in shock and imposed fire-tactics on the Cavalry. In his
remarks on terrain (p. 423) Mr. Goldman reveals the truth. “Favourable
on the whole as the ground was in the Free State, in the presence of
Cavalry operating on favourable ground the Boers refused to give
battle.” Well, I can only ask the reader to study as one example among
scores Mr. Goldman’s own example, Zand River, noting (1) that we were
nearly five times superior in total strength, and in guns, and that the
regular Cavalry, reckoned apart from mounted riflemen and Infantry,
amounted to five-eighths of the whole Boer army; (2) that the terrain
was as suitable for shock manœuvre as any Cavalry could expect to
obtain, and such as they very rarely would obtain in any probable
European battle-field; (3) the tactical incidents of the Cavalry turning
movement, the offensive strokes by the Boers, and the failure of our
charge. How could the Cavalry lose 224 horses and 161 men in casualties
and prisoners and fail in their tactical task, unless someone “gave
battle”? In other words, “battle” is synonymous with “shock.” Nothing
but shock counts.

Time has convinced Mr. Goldman more and more strongly of this truth. In
his Preface to Bernhardi he lectures the Boers in a vein of
compassionate condescension on their ignorance of the “Art of War.” It
is true enough that there was much in the art of war which the Boers did
not understand, or understood fatally late. But what does their mentor,
for the purposes of his argument in this Preface, mean by the “Art of
War”? He means shock, though he gives it the customary name of “mounted

“Had the Boers understood the Art of War and taken advantage of the
openings which their superior mobility gave them, or had they been
possessed of a body of Cavalry capable of mounted action, say at
Magersfontein, they might repeatedly have wrought confusion in our

This passage sets the crown upon the case for “peculiarity.” I leave it
as it stands without further comment.

Such are Mr. Goldman’s reasons for regarding his South African War as a
vindication of the _arme blanche_. I have not discussed them at
excessive length. They are extreme views, but such views, if honestly
expounded, as Mr. Goldman expounds them, must be extreme. Many people
vaguely entertain similar ideas, but if they take the pains to work them
out with facts and maps, they will either be forced to similar
extremities or will abandon them altogether. In my next two chapters I
shall give further proof of the astounding contradictions in which _arme
blanche_ doctrine abounds.

I come to the last of the triumvirate, General von Bernhardi himself. It
is a relief. We begin to breathe fresh air after an atmosphere which, I
believe the reader will agree with me, becomes sometimes almost
unbearably close and enervating. When censure of the Commander-in-Chief,
depreciation of a brave enemy, implied depreciation of our own mounted
riflemen, complaints about ground, complaints about horses, complaints
about anything and everything but the one thing which really merited
complaint, when apology and insinuation are carried so far, we begin to
long for something stimulating and straightforward, and in Bernhardi we
get it. On his work I shall have to write more fully in the next
chapter. At this moment I wish only to call attention to his view of the
“peculiarity” of the Boer War. It is contained in half a dozen lines on
page 56 of “Cavalry in Future Wars.” He has just been praising the Boer
charges as having achieved “brilliant results,” in spite of “any kind of
tactical training for this particular purpose.” (What a curious
sidelight that latter remark throws on official views of "training"!) He

  “Certainly weapons and numbers have altered materially since the days
  of the American Civil War, and the experiences of South Africa,
  largely conditioned by the peculiar topographical conditions and the
  out-of-door habits and sporting instincts of the Boers, cannot be
  transferred to European circumstances without important

That is all he explicitly says about the Boer War. But the reader will
see at once that here is a totally different point of view from that of
Mr. Goldman, whose thesis is that the Boers were not formidable enough
to be fit adversaries for our Cavalry, that they would not “stand,” and
that their great deficiency was lack of a steel weapon and shock power.
The idea underlying Bernhardi’s vague words is much more akin to that
contained in the passage quoted from Sir John French, and, of course, it
is essentially the right idea. I pass by the “peculiar topographical
conditions.” Without further elaboration, we need not take the words to
mean in set terms that South Africa was less favourable for shock
manœuvre than Europe. The kernel lies in the “outdoor habits and
sporting instincts,” creating conditions which “cannot be transferred to
European circumstances without important modification.” These words,
read in connection with the “brilliant results” of the Boer charges, can
only signify that town-bred Europeans cannot hope to imitate methods,
excellent in themselves, but demanding outdoor habits and sporting

This idea, expressed in one shadowy form or another, of an element of
superiority in the Boers, is very common; commoner, I think, on the
whole than its antitype, the idea of inferiority, though I have more
than once heard both propounded, unconsciously, in the same breath by
the same person. But it is never in this country voiced authoritatively;
and with good reason, for it shakes to its foundations the whole fabric
of the shock system and opens up a line of thought which can end only in
one way. Mr. Goldman does not even hint at it, except in connection with
that strange faculty for fighting _defensive_ rear-guard actions which
he regards as quite outside the topic of Cavalry. General French, while
implying that the Boers were formidable, is silent about the reason.

Let us face this shadowy argument for what it is worth. What does it
mean? That we cannot train our Cavalry to become genuinely mobile
mounted riflemen, with the rifle charge as their tactical climax instead
of the shock charge, which is not a climax at all, but an isolated
species of encounter in glaring conflict with real battle conditions?
The contention, if it is really made, is absurd. If we cannot
artificially create inbred instincts and habits so strong as those of
the Boers, we have the advantage of moral and tactical discipline,
acquired only too late by the Boers. We can work in the right direction
on the magnificent material we have, and instead of imbuing the wrong
spirit deliberately imbue the right spirit. We can teach our men to
“fight up” to the charge and rely on one and the same weapon both for
the process of “fighting up” and for the charge itself, when and where
the actual mounted charge is necessary. The tactical form of the Boer
and British rifle charge—that is, in successive lines and with wide
intervals—was precisely the same as our own open-order steel charge as
practised at Klip Drift and at the present moment. The crucial
difference lay in spirit and object; the spirit leading up to the charge
was that of the rifle, and the object was that of overcoming the enemy
with the rifle, not necessarily in a mêlée unless by way of pursuit, but
at decisive range.

Is saddle-fire an accomplishment our Cavalry cannot acquire—an
accomplishment which at this very moment we inculcate for “picked men
and scouts” of the Mounted Infantry, a force with not a quarter of the
mounted training that the Cavalry receive? For professional troops it
cannot be more difficult to acquire than skill with the steel weapon on
horseback. That is an art which, as everybody knows, demands long and
continuous drill and practice. Indeed, it must demand longer drill and
practice, because true shock—that is, heavy impact—involves close,
knee-to-knee formations, rigid, mechanical, symmetrical, not only
difficult to attain in themselves, but exceedingly difficult to combine
with the free and effective use of steel weapons. Obviously, neither
saddle-fire nor the use of steel weapons can safely be enjoined in times
of peace for volunteer troops like our Yeomanry, for example, who obtain
at the most a fortnight’s continuous field training in the year.

I ask the reader seriously to follow out the train of thought suggested
by those pregnant words “outdoor habits and sporting instincts.” Is it
not common sense that these habits and instincts, fortified by drill and
discipline, must be the very foundation of mounted success in war, and
is not a system of tactics founded upon them likely to be a good system?
Should it not be the aim of a highly-civilized industrial people to aim
at approximating as far as possible to such a system? Or, taking as
their starting-point indoor habits and urban instincts, are they to
persist in working in the opposite direction? Was it not the possession
of these habits and instincts by such a large number of Americans at the
time of the Civil War that led to the brilliant achievements of Cavalry
in that war, mainly through trained reliance on the firearm, imperfect
weapon as it was? Was not our own possession of sporting and hunting
aptitudes, embodied in Englishmen and Colonials alike, our very
salvation in South Africa? Of course it was. Wherever these natural
instincts were strong enough to burst the bonds of ancient tradition,
there we obtained enterprising Cavalry leaders. The same instincts
called into being many good leaders among Infantrymen, gunners, and
sappers, and among ordinary civilians from every quarter of the Empire.

Do we not pride ourselves on this fact? Is it not a commonplace in every
Englishman’s mouth that, hard and bitter as the struggle was, “no other
nation”—and among other nations Germany is often instanced—could have
engaged in it so successfully as ourselves? There is sound truth in the
boast. But it is the emptiest and silliest of boasts if we do not
recognize the meaning behind it, which is nothing but this—that we have
a greater proportion of men in our Empire who possess those outdoor
habits and sporting instincts which take shape in skilled mounted
riflemen. And when we envisage a European war, are we to forget this
boast and, ignoring not only our own priceless experience but our own
innate capacities, revert to the antiquated European system?

If there are other arguments for “peculiarity,” I do not know them. But
if I have carried my readers with me, they will agree that in this
chapter and every other, in investigating and combating alleged
peculiarities I have, in fact, been pursuing phantom arguments round the
circumference of a vicious circle. Disguise it as we may, the real
peculiarity of the Boer War was that the Boer horsemen did not carry
steel weapons. European Cavalries do. Let us turn to Europe.

                              CHAPTER XIII

There, indeed, is the grand paradox. Quite convinced as patriotic
Englishmen that we did better in South Africa than the Germans could
have done, we nevertheless turn to Germany for light and leading on the
mounted problems of to-day. Though I name Germany in particular, and
would be justified, for the purposes of my argument, in confining myself
to Germany, it need scarcely be added that Continental practice in
general has a fatally strong influence on British practice. One may
argue interminably, and perhaps not without some success, against the
alleged peculiarities of the Boer War, but in the last resort one meets
that most exasperating, because most intangible and inconclusive, of all
arguments—"other nations believe in the _arme blanche_. Germany, for
example, believes in it. Germany has a large and magnificent army;
therefore, Germany and the other nations must be right." As a moderate
and sober expression of this view, I quote the following from a leading
article which appeared in the _Times_ of September 16, 1909—an article
itself founded on the views of the able Military Correspondent of that
journal, given after the manœuvres of 1909:

  “Prominent among these”—_i.e._, erroneous schools of thought arising
  from South African experience—"is that which, in the campaigns of the
  future, _assigns to Cavalry the rôle of Mounted Infantry_. As our
  Military Correspondent points out, Continental nations, to whom our
  own records, as well as those of the Russo-Japanese War, are equally
  open, and who are among the most intelligent and _experienced_ in
  military affairs, maintain large forces of Cavalry, and train them in
  a certain manner for a certain purpose. As our army is officially
  designed to fight a _civilized_ enemy, it follows that we _must not be
  deficient in a weapon possessed by potential foes_. It is therefore
  necessary that the one Cavalry division we possess should compare
  favourably in quality with the squadrons that it may have to meet,
  whose _numerical superiority_ is not a matter of doubt."

Although almost every word in this paragraph invites criticism, I need
call attention only to those I have italicized:

1. “The rôle of Mounted Infantry,” in effect, begs the whole question.
It instantly calls up the starved and stunted functions of that arm, as
it is now organized and trained, and by innuendo suggests something
utterly devoid of dash and mobility.

2. “Experienced.” Russia I shall come to later. When have Germany,
Austria, or France had national experience, in civilized war, of the
smokeless magazine rifle?

3. “Civilized.” Were the Boers not a civilized enemy?

4. “Numerical superiority.” The suggestion is that, having a small force
of Cavalry, we should be all the more careful to obtain excellence in
the _arme blanche_. This is, indeed, an amazing argument. Is our
solitary division to court brute physical collisions with the
Continental masses? Even “Cavalry Training” admits that the smaller the
force, the greater the necessity of relying on the rifle. Think of South
Africa—of Bergendal, for example, and scores of other actions! The
admission, of course, gravely imperils the _arme blanche_, because it
implies, what is the literal truth, that the rifle can impose tactics on
the steel. But how escape the admission?

5. “It follows that we must not be deficient in a weapon possessed by
potential foes.”

That will serve as a text for this chapter. Observe that the doctrine of
mere imitation is put in its frankest form. Our Lancers already carry
three different weapons. If Germany were to add a fourth or a fifth, in
that case, too, it would “follow,” no doubt, that we must “not be
deficient.” If we act on this principle at all, it was surely a pity
that we did not act upon it when the Boer War was imminent. Our
“potential foes” then possessed a weapon in which our Cavalry were
lamentably deficient, and lacked a weapon which proved to be nothing but
an encumbrance to our Cavalry. Did those circumstances prevent us from
sending our Cavalry to the war equipped and trained on Crimean lines,
more than forty years out of date? Do they prevent Mr. Goldman, even
now, from denying that, even for South Africa, that equipment and
training were wrong? What I want to lay stress on is the absence of any
recognition that there are some general principles at stake. Votes are
counted, selected foreign votes, given by “potential foes” to whom our
“records are open,” being regarded as equal in value to our own.
America, not being a “potential foe,” has no vote. Colonel Repington
himself, in the _Times_ of September 14, briefly disposed of the
question in just this way. Yet he is too able a man not to know that
imitation is not a principle, that counting votes is not decisive, and
that the _arme blanche_ must be justified by arguments based on the
facts of modern war. Is he prepared so to justify it? I have never seen
his full profession of faith. I always seem to detect in his writing the
attitude of one who on this matter passively accepts the official
doctrine as it stands, and who works with enthusiasm and vigour to make
a success of an existing system. After all, I seem to hear him saying,
we cannot go far wrong, because our potential foes believe in the same
system. I may be in error, but I venture to issue the challenge to him
to expound, illustrate, and justify the _arme blanche_ theory; to
declare for the “terror of cold steel,” for the dash which can only be
inspired by the steel weapon, for the power of the steel to impose
tactics on the rifle, for the inevitable shock duel; and to state
whether he agrees with General French, or Mr. Goldman, or General von
Bernhardi, as to the nature of the abnormalities which make the lesson
of the Boer War negligible. If he will help with his keen logic to
illuminate the maze of contradictions through which I shall thread my
way in this and the next chapter, he will do a still greater service to
the true interests of the Cavalry. He will admit that he has undergone
conversion since 1904. At a time when he and all the world were under
the hallucination that the Cossacks were good mounted riflemen, he wrote
that the tactics necessary to destroy them would be the Boer tactics,
and that they were “not to be beaten by serried ranks, classic charges,”
and “prehistoric methods” of that sort (_Times_, April 2, 1904).

General von Bernhardi’s work, “Cavalry in Future Wars,” admittedly
inspires British Cavalry practice. Is he, _in the matter of the steel
weapon_, a trustworthy guide?

Let me first recall the attitude of the German General Staff towards the
mounted problems raised by our war. The whole of the issue we are
discussing is “taboo” to them. Indeed, the whole mounted question is
“taboo” to them. In the rare comments on mounted action—comments
confined mainly to the Kimberley operations, and referred to in my own
Chapters VI. and VII.—the German Official Historian never so much as by
a line even indirectly contrasts the relative powers of mounted riflemen
and Cavalry. During the period covered by the History, he speaks of the
Boers nearly always as though they were Infantry, and alludes in general
terms to their “purely defensive powers,” in spite of incidents—rare, no
doubt, in the early stages, but strongly suggestive of the future—like
Talana Hill, Nicholson’s Nek, Wagon Hill, Spion Kop, Waterval,
Kitchener’s Kopje, Sannah’s Post, all of which occurred within the
period described. And just at the time of Sannah’s Post and De Wet’s
raids, when the Boers were beginning a consistent development of
aggressive mobility, not in the “regular” battles, where in numbers they
were hopelessly outmatched, but in independent adventure; just,
moreover, when aggressive mounted effort on our side was beginning to be
more urgently necessary than ever before, the detailed narrative ends.
After March, 1900, “the battles furnish in their details little
instruction of tactical value,”[74] and the whole campaign from
Bloemfontein to Komati Poort receives only a brief summary. The guerilla
war—a wholly mounted war—obtains half a page.


Footnote 74:

  “The War in South Africa” (March to September, 1900), (translated by
  Colonel Du Cane), p. 288.


Then comes a “tactical retrospect,” in which it becomes perfectly clear
that for the writer the whole interest of the war centres in the
development of fire-tactics for riflemen. Whether they have horses in
the background or not seems to be immaterial, and for practical purposes
he assumes that they have not. This assumption destroys the value of
more than half his criticism. The whole point was that the Boer riflemen
were mounted riflemen, able, by the rifle, to defend a position in small
force against superior force, and, by the horse, to leave that position
when it became too hot. Obviously these men, though they could be, and
were, attacked vehemently by Infantry, could never, unless they courted
suicide, be defeated and destroyed by Infantry, who walk and do not
ride. Obviously, too, you cannot expect even the best Infantry under the
best leaders eternally to sustain at the highest level the ardour of the
fire-fight on foot unless they know that riflemen equal in mobility to
the enemy—that is, mounted riflemen—are co-operating with equal ardour
and efficiency for that defeat and destruction of the mounted enemy
which mounted men can alone ensure. This sense of skilled and effective
co-operation is exactly what our Infantry did not have, from causes I
need not enter into again. The German critic is blind to the defect,
because he is blind to the whole mounted problem. Regarding the Boers as
Infantry, he regards our Infantry and the Generals who controlled them
as solely responsible for the incompleteness of our victories, and goes
to the monstrous length of attributing this incomplete achievement
partly to the “inferior quality of a mercenary army.”

The writer of the retrospect knew that the Boers had horses, for in one
passage he alludes to their “mobility,” and he knew that we had a large
body of Cavalry and mounted riflemen, for in another solitary passage he
casually alludes to their ineffective turning movements. But the
“Infantry fight,” which in all war “decides the battle,” is the main
theme throughout, and remarkably interesting the critic’s observations
are. So far as they go, they apply just as closely to mounted riflemen
as to Infantry, though the critic himself is wholly unconscious of the
analogy and of the implied condemnation he over and over again makes on
the theory underlying the steel armament of Cavalry.

If he had proceeded with a study of the war, and had thoroughly digested
the fact that the Boers not only had horses, but could attack, what
would have been his conclusions? If only he had thoroughly realized that
our Infantry had not horses, he would, I am sure, have modified some of
his strictures on the use of that arm, on the excessive “dread of
losses,” and so on. Some inkling of the truth that mobility often
transcends vulnerability, and that mounted riflemen can in the long run
be thoroughly defeated only by mounted riflemen, would have dawned upon
him. But who knows? So strange and persistent is his reticence about the
_arme blanche_, so outspoken his surprise and delight when—for example,
at Paardeberg—he finds Cavalry using the carbine with success, that one
would almost imagine he had received the _mot d’ordre_ for silence on
the whole topic. However, let this be clear, at any rate: (1) That there
is no explicit comfort for the _arme blanche_ in any page of these two
volumes; (2) that there is no suggestion of any peculiarity or
abnormality in the Boer War which renders its lessons inapplicable to
future wars. Mr. Goldman’s case for peculiarity crumbles in the light of
this searching analysis of fire-tactics. Substitute “mounted riflemen”
for “riflemen” in cases where the facts obviously demand the change, and
the whole structure of “strategical mishandling” and slack Boer
resistance falls to pieces. The idea that the Boers needed only the
_arme blanche_ to make them formidable is refuted a hundred times by

And now let us turn to Bernhardi. Here, by a welcome contrast, we have
an enthusiast for the mounted arm. Not a disproportionately ardent
enthusiast by any means. Armament apart, not a word he says in support
of the profound importance of Cavalry in future wars is exaggerated. On
the contrary, he underrates their rôle, as I shall show. The Boers, in
the one allusion to them, are not “Infantry” for him, but “Cavalry,” and
he has evidently been deeply impressed by the bearing of our war upon
Cavalry problems—how deeply impressed it is impossible to say. His first
edition was published in 1899, just before the war began; the second,
which Mr. Goldman has translated, in 1902, when it was barely over. His
strong views on the great importance of fire-action were evidently
inspired by the American Civil War and by the poor performances of the
shock-trained European Cavalries, including those of the Prussian
Cavalry, in the wars of 1866, 1870, and 1877. In his second edition he
never illustrates specifically from our war, probably from lack of
sufficiently full information. But his allusion to the remarkable
character of the Boer charges is in harmony with the whole spirit which
pervades his chapters on fire-action.

Any Englishman who is aware of the fact that our own “Cavalry Training”
is based, sometimes to the extent of textual quotation, on Bernhardi’s
work, and, on the recommendation of General French, resorting to that
work not merely as the most complete and brilliant exposition of modern
Cavalry theory, but as a refutation of the opponents of shock, must be
struck at the very outset by two singular circumstances:

1. The dominant feature of the book is insistence on fire.

2. So far from representing German practice, Bernhardi writes avowedly
as the revolutionary reformer of a dangerously antiquated system, upheld
by authorities whom long years of peace and the memories of a war far
too easily won have drugged into unintelligent lethargy. In 1899, when,
without a suspicion of our own defects, we were complacently beginning a
war which threw Cavalry defects into the strongest possible light,
Bernhardi was fiercely combating these very defects in the face of a
strongly hostile professional and public opinion. In the preface to his
edition of 1902, when our war was ending, he complains that “of the
demands which I put forward concerning the organization and equipment of
the [German] Cavalry, none have as yet been put into execution,” though
he concedes that the “necessity of reforms” has “made progress.”
Organization is of no immediate concern to us. By equipment we find
later that he refers (among other less important points) to the
rearmament of the Cavalry with a firearm “ballistically equal in all
respects to the rifle of the Infantry”—that is, to a reform adopted by
us during the war, and retained ever since. Some of his recommendations
for the education of Cavalry officers in the rudiments of fire-tactics
would make our youngest Yeomanry subaltern blush. On the importance of
fire for Cavalry there is nothing in the book which has not been
commonplace to all intelligent critics of the American Civil War of

Now I want to give the reader a warning and a suggestion. The warning is
not to assume that Bernhardi is representative of “other nations.” The
German Cavalry is now only just about to be equipped with a good
firearm. Count Wrangel is preaching to the Austrian Cavalry a doctrine
in flat contradiction to Bernhardi’s. The French Cavalry, General de
Negrier tells us, _s’obstinent dans leur rêve_ of classic charges and
contempt for fire-tactics.[75] My suggestion is this—that we should
measure Bernhardi’s views by the reactionary views which he set out to
fight. He is a German, writing exclusively to Germans, ruthlessly
exposing German defects, and making his remedies conform to these
defects. His only allusion to British Cavalry is when he speaks, on page
185, of “Anglo-maniacs and faddists” in connection with a question of
breaking horses. After all, the most passionate reformer must limit
himself to more or less feasible aims. I do not mean for a moment that
the General consciously refrained from giving overstrong meat to babes;
but when we remember the _milieu_ in which he lived, the influence to
which, during his whole life, he was subjected, and the mountains of
prejudice which he had to surmount, it seems marvellous, not that he
should go no farther than he does go on the path of intelligent reform,
but that he should have gone as far. As a matter of worldly wisdom, de
Negrier is probably wrong in telling to a yet more backward Cavalry the
full, logical, scathing truth about the archaic absurdities of shock.


Footnote 75:

  _Revue des deux Mondes_, August, 1908.


Read Bernhardi in the light of these circumstances. The early chapters
must, I think, have fairly horrified our _arme blanche_ school. He runs
amok among all the cherished traditions which held good from the Crimea
to Talana Hill.

“The Art of War has been revolutionized (_inter alia_) by ‘arms of
precision’” (p. 1).

Compare Mr. Goldman’s definition of the Art of War, in so far as that
art was misunderstood by the Boers.[76] On page 9 Bernhardi says:

  “As far as the Infantry are concerned, it will be quite the exception
  to encounter them in closed bodies; generally we shall have to ride
  against extended lines, which offer a most unfavourable target for our


Footnote 76:

  _Vide supra_, p. 286.


Absolutely correct, if we remember that by “our purpose” he refers to
the steel weapon, showing at the outset that he does not realize the
nature, as he certainly does not contemplate the adoption of the mounted
rifleman’s charge.

  “Thus, essentially the Cavalry has been driven out of its former place
  of honour on the battle-fields of the plains, and has been compelled
  to seek the _assistance of the cover the ground affords_ in order to
  carry its own power of destruction into immediate contact with its
  enemy, and only under most exceptionally favourable conditions will it
  still be possible to deliver a charge” (he means an _arme blanche_
  charge) “direct across the open” (pp. 9, 10).

He should add, of course, what South Africa proved, and the Japanese
Cavalry confirmed on the plains of Mukden—that mounted riflemen have
taken the “place of honour” vacated by Cavalry. But his instinct about
terrain is sound at bottom. Contrast the demoralizing doctrine of
“Cavalry ground,” and Mr. Goldman’s complaint that even South Africa was
not “open” enough for Cavalry. Contrast his view of “obstructions,” and
his failure to perceive what Bernhardi clearly perceives—that
inequalities and obstructions, so far from being a hindrance to mounted
troops, are in modern war increasingly necessary for effective action in
surprise, and ought to be a matter of rejoicing, not lamentation.

  “The possible participation of the civilian inhabitants of the invaded
  Nation in the War will hamper most severely all forms of Cavalry
  action other than on the battle-field” (p. 10).

This, of course, is an allusion to the _francs-tireurs_ of 1870, who
made it unsafe for the Prussian Cavalry to go about alone. I commend it
to those who regard our guerilla war in particular as of no concern to
Cavalry. The implication, of course, is that the steel is useless in
these conditions. And the same is implied elsewhere of all the duties of
scouting and reconnaissance, save alone for the gigantic preliminary
shock duel which is to clear the road for reconnaissance, and to which I
shall have to recur later.

On the steel in pursuit, Bernhardi is almost ironical. Only when

  “troops of low quality, beaten, without officers, weary and hungry,
  lose all cohesion, when with baggage, wounded and stragglers, they are
  driven back over crowded roads, and then, no matter how well they are
  armed, they are an easy prey to a pursuing Cavalry. The man who throws
  his rifle away, or shoots in the air, will not find salvation either
  in clip-loading or smokeless powder against the lance in the hands of
  a relentless pursuing Cavalry” (p. 15).

We may add—and I am sure he would admit—that men who throw their rifles
away are an easy prey to any form of physical compulsion. They will
surrender to a riding-whip. For sheer rapid killing just conceive of the
frightful efficacy of the rifle, as proved by our war! If the horsemen
insist on remaining on their horses among these terrified sheep, and if
they do not use rifle-fire from the saddle, would not a revolver be at
least as effective as a sword or lance? Of course the whole conception
of such a pursuit with the steel on any considerable scale is the old
Cavalry chimera so rarely seen in practice, never seen in the European
wars from 1866 onwards, never seen in the Boer War, never seen in
Manchuria. In other passages Bernhardi himself practically admits that
it is a chimera.

  “The same holds good for the fight itself. We cannot attack even
  inferior Infantry as long as it only keeps the muzzle of its rifles
  down and shoots straight; but once it is morally broken and surprised,
  then the greatest results are still to be achieved even on an open
  battle-field” (p. 15).

The amazing thing is that in passages like this, where he is thinking
mainly of the deficiencies of the steel, Bernhardi seems for the moment
to forget that pure mounted riflemen, and even the hybrids, perfect in
both weapons, who represent his own ideal, have the same _defensive_
power as Infantry, to say nothing of the additional offensive (and
defensive) power conferred by the horse. When, in other passages, he is
thinking mainly of the excellence of the firearm, he is fully alive to
the close analogy with Infantry, and goes to the extreme length of
insisting that Cavalry shall actually be as good as Infantry at their
own game of _fire_. They _can_ be as good, he says, and if they are not
as good, for Heaven’s sake, don’t tell them so, or you will destroy
their _dash!_ (p. 249). And they should have a firearm superior even to
the Infantry rifle (p. 176). These three passages, on pages 15, 176, and
249, read together, give us in one more form the _reductio ad absurdum_
of the steel weapon. Postulating equal fire-efficiency for Cavalry and
Infantry, read the first passage over again, substituting “Cavalry” for
“Infantry.” “We cannot attack [_i.e._, with the steel] even inferior
Cavalry [much less inferior mounted riflemen of the pure type] as long
as it only keeps the muzzles of its rifles down and shoots straight.”
The rest is a truism: morally broken troops of course get beaten. And
now postulate superior Cavalry, or, better still, superior mounted
riflemen of the pure type, with their full aggressive powers. What
becomes of the steel? In Bernhardi part of the confusion is due to the
fact that he does not recognize the pure type of mounted rifleman at
all, not even in the half-developed form of our Mounted Infantry. Having
started from the _a priori_ unreasoned dogma that however reduced the
opportunities for the steel, it must be retained, he is continually
endeavouring to obtain the benefit of both worlds, and involving himself
thereby in palpable contradictions and inconsistencies. Our own
authorities are more careful in avoiding the direct _reductio ad
absurdum_. In borrowing from Bernhardi for the purposes of “Cavalry
Training,” they eschew passages like those I have quoted hitherto, which
to English ears would mean the downfall of the steel, and rely on less
compromising matter.

In Chapter IV, “Increased Importance of Dismounted Action” (note in
“dismounted action” the old, ineradicable assumption that “mounted
action” is only associated with the steel), he is in the height of what
I may call his “fire-mood,” and is very reticent about the _arme
blanche_. The firearm, which, remember, should be a _better_ weapon, if
anything, than the Infantry rifle, is given many offensive as well as
defensive rôles. Pursuits, for example, must not be “frontal,” because
“Cavalry can easily be held up by any rear-guard position in which a few
intact troops remain.” But who, we wonder, are these “intact troops”?
Why not Cavalry, or mounted riflemen, as in South Africa? Is not
rear-guard work a conventional and normal function of Cavalry itself?
And if it is a case of Cavalry versus Cavalry, why not shock, at the
compulsion of one side or the other? On the next page the General
himself is demonstrating the value of Cavalry in rear-guard work, and
insisting on the paramount importance of the firearm in it.

His further views on pursuit have been incorporated in “Cavalry
Training.” Pursuits are to be on “parallel lines” and on the enemy’s
flanks, or by way of anticipation, on his extreme rear—circumstances
where the “principal rôle falls to the firearm, for only in the
fire-fight is it possible to break off an attack without loss in order
to appear again at some other point.” This passage, of course, is
another implicit abandonment of the whole case for the steel. Think it
out, and you will see that I am not exaggerating. It is transferred
textually to “Cavalry Training” (p. 229), but, wisely enough, it appears
at the respectful distance of forty-two pages from the general remarks
on the “Employment of Cavalry,” where, among opportunities for the use
of the firearm (pp. 186, 187), pursuit is not mentioned, and where the
whole tenor of the instruction is that fire-action is only to be used
when “_the situation imperatively demands it_.” Think this matter out in
the light of “fire-fights” in South Africa (Roodewal, for example) or
anywhere else, including, of course, fire-fights between or against
Cavalry or mounted riflemen. What is the use of a weapon which admits of
no tactical elasticity, for that is what it comes to, which can be used
only when you are so certain of complete and _final_ success that you
need not even contemplate another attack at another point? This, of
course, is the real reason for that idleness on the battle-field, that
strange lack of dash which, by the admission of their own military
authorities from Von Moltke downwards, characterized the Cavalries
engaged in the wars of 1866 and 1870. And then there were no magazine
rifles. Cavalry dash in South Africa was sapped by faith in the steel,
and only partially restored by faith in the rifle. It is the old story:
the charge must be the climax of a fire-fight, and therefore it must be
inspired by fire. Under modern conditions you cannot mix the two sets of
tactics; they are antagonistic and incompatible.

The passage goes on: “The charge, then, will only secure a greater
result than dismounted action when the tactical cohesion of the enemy
has been dissolved and his fire-power broken—that is to say, generally
it will be of greater service in tactical than in strategical pursuits”
(pp. 51, 52). We know from the passage quoted on page 302 what Bernhardi
means by “dissolved tactical cohesion.” He means circumstances in which
any weapon and any charge will secure surrender. In the next words he
falls accidentally into the old error of confusing combat with mobility.
What difference does it make to the efficacy of a weapon whether combat
has been brought about tactically or strategically?

But, taking the words as they stand, what a light they throw on South
Africa and the complaints of strategical mishandling and lack of
opportunity! How in the world does Mr. Goldman reconcile them with his
contempt for “tactical effects” and his conception of vast _strategical_
circuits ending in _shock_-tactics? I need scarcely remind the reader
that in all the actions on the main line of advance from Paardeberg and
Poplar Grove to Bergendal, from February to September, 1900, the
conditions of pursuit may be truly said to have been present from the
very outset, owing to the great disparity of forces. Roberts was
continually endeavouring to do exactly what Bernhardi recommends, to
initiate for his mounted troops, not frontal but parallel pursuits, or
anticipatory pursuits on the enemy’s extreme rear. He failed because (1)
the enemy were themselves skilled mounted riflemen, who were able to
hold very extensive fronts with very few men; (2) because our Cavalry
were deficient in the very quality which Bernhardi says is
essential—fire-power. And now let us read a little farther and see what
Bernhardi says in contemplating this very contingency of wide fronts on
pages 53, 54, under “Turning Movements Impracticable.” Here he strongly
censures the fallacious idea that Cavalry “possesses in its mobility the
infallible means of circumventing points of resistance.” “Width of the
(enemy’s) front” (and the reader will remember the prodigious extent of
the thinly-held Boer fronts) is one of the first obstacles named. Others
are summarized in the following paragraph, which I commend particularly
to Mr. Goldman:

  “The theory that Cavalry, thanks to its mobility, can always ride
  round and turn the positions it encounters, breaks down in practice
  before the tactical and strategical demands upon the arm, partly by
  reason of the _local conditions_, and partly because of the
  consideration which has to be given to _time_, to the _endurance of
  the horses_, and the position of the following columns” (p. 54).

Apply these remarks to battle-fields, such as Diamond Hill and Zand
River, upon which I commented in Chapters IX. and XII. The logical
alternative to circumventing tactics was, as I pointed out, piercing
tactics, not the still wider circumventions which French favoured. But
piercing tactics signified fire-tactics, and, since the enemy was
mounted, swift, aggressive fire-tactics, either into decisive range or
through the whole of a fire-zone, with a wheel back from the rear,
should the enemy hold their ground. Bernhardi’s alternative is of
precisely the same nature. “The actual assault remains necessary now,”
and it is the assault by _fire_. Only, alas! it is always the wholly
“dismounted” assault.

Two pages later, after censuring another error, which I have several
times alluded to—namely, that of “overrating the power of Horse
Artillery to clear the road for Cavalry” (pp. 54 and 178), we come to
his allusion to the Boer charges on horseback (p. 56). Surely these must
have given him, after all he has said, _furieusement à penser_. But no.
What have “habits and instincts” to do with immemorial official creeds?
A page later he is qualifying his remarks about Horse Artillery for the
express purpose of admitting that guns are very necessary indeed for
covering Cavalry _fire-tactics_, which, by his hypothesis, must be
“dismounted.” I would give much to know exactly what effect upon his
mind was made by Mr. Goldman’s deprecatory footnote to the effect that
the Boer charges were not “Cavalry” charges, but Mounted Infantry
charges; for, remember, he does not recognize Mounted Infantry at all.
The real truth is, of course, that when Bernhardi wrote his second
edition he knew very little about the last half of our war. No foreign
observers were there, and the German official witnesses had decided that
there was to be no “tactical interest” after March, 1900. It is doubtful
whether the greater number of the charges had even taken place when
Bernhardi went to press. Mr. Goldman takes pains to assure him that
there were only “one or two” after all. And the whole of our Cavalry
school has been assuring him ever since that the war, and especially the
guerilla war, was so abnormal as to be quite uninteresting to Cavalry.
So error propagates error.

We are prepared, then, for the inevitable. Since for Bernhardi Cavalry
must have some “mounted” tactics, clearly those mounted tactics must be
derived from the steel. Yet, by the end of Chapter iv., what a chasm
seems to have intervened between the firearm and the steel! For the
latter weapon he has, explicitly or implicitly, eliminated every
combative opportunity save those of complete demoralization in the
enemy. The General leaps the chasm with splendid intrepidity. Hitherto
the natural inference from his writing is that the firearm has far
surpassed the steel in importance, and in several later passages, after
leaping the chasm, he speaks of its importance as “equal.” But in the
first lines of Chapter v., “Tactical Leading in Mounted Combats,” when
his revolutionary instincts must be curbed, all he admits is that
dismounted action has “increased considerably in importance.” Then
follows the explicit recantation, the confession of the true faith:

  “It nevertheless remains the fact that the combat with cold steel
  remains the chief _raison d’être_ of the Cavalry, and when the
  principles have to be considered according to which troops have to be
  employed upon the battle-field, the actual collision of Cavalry
  ‘masses’ remains the predominant factor.”

The logical hiatus, so familiar in all writers on shock, is complete.
There is no attempt made to bridge it. One can almost hear the ghost of
Frederick the Great whispering in the impious General’s ear: “What is
all this despicable talk about dismounting? Betray the steel? Never!”

Remark that in making this sudden transition the General passes
instantly from a general consideration of the uses of Cavalry in war,
mainly fire-uses (where any weapon is mentioned at all), to the specific
consideration of the “collision of Cavalry masses,” which I will assume
for the moment to mean the inter-Cavalry shock fight, the absence of
which, from modern battle-fields, he, like General French, seems to
regard as unthinkable. “Battle-field,” in its context, evidently means
“general battle-field of all arms.” Previously, in Chapter ii., he has
referred to that other opportunity for the “Cavalry duel”—namely, in
strategical reconnaissance by the independent Cavalry, where, also, I
take him to assume that the duel is a _shock_ duel. This battle-field
“collision” is the “predominant factor,” and it is here, if I read his
real inner meaning aright, and, for practical purposes, here only, that
the steel weapon will find its opportunity.

‘If I read his real inner meaning aright;’ I am bound to make that
reservation. One has to make such reservations in criticizing all
“shock” literature at the present day, because the irruption of the
unruly firearm into the sacred precincts of shock results in obscurities
the task of unravelling which can only be compared to the elucidation of
a difficult Greek text. Two incompatible things have to be reconciled,
and it is beyond the wit of man to depict their reconciliation in clear
and logical language. How easy it would have been for Bernhardi (if he
really meant it) to say early in his book, “For Cavalry the predominant
factor is the collision (_i.e._, the _mutual_ collision) of Cavalry
masses. In this inevitable class of encounter the steel is, and must be,
supreme; therefore the steel must be the dominant weapon for Cavalry.
Otherwise, and for all other purposes (except, for example, the pursuit
of utterly demoralized Infantry and one or two other very rare
opportunities) the firearm has usurped its place,” and then arrange his
treatment of the subject frankly and clearly from this point of view.
Then—if one only could extort from him his definition of a “mass”—one
would have something concrete and definite to deal with. But such a
course would have compelled him to rewrite his entire work, and to open
his eyes to the inconsistencies with which it teems, just as the same
course would compel the compilers of “Cavalry Training” to court
self-stultification. It is ludicrous first to vest Cavalry with the full
fire-power of Infantry, who are to have no fear of Cavalry, and then to
say that the steel weapon must decide the mutual combats of Cavalry, who
are riflemen plus horses. Even as it is, the jar of the ill-locked
points (if I may change my metaphor) is audible as Bernhardi passes from
one set of rails to the other. By the time he has reached this Chapter
v. he has already, thanks to fire, almost banished the “battle-field”
from consideration. “Cavalry has been driven out of its former place of
honour on the battle-fields of the plains” (_i.e._, from the only
terrain fit for shock). But surely the collision of Cavalry masses on
the battle-field, this “predominant factor,” must involve a “place of
honour.” What can there be more honourable than the defeat of the
enemy’s mounted troops? In South Africa such a defeat would have
signified the defeat of the whole Boer army on any given occasion. But I
do not want to cavil over words. Take the General’s summary at the end
of Chapter ii., “Duties during the War.”

  “If, after this short survey of the many fields of action open to
  horsemen in the future, we ask the decisive question, ‘Which tasks in
  the future will need to be most carefully kept in mind in the
  organization and training of this arm in peace-time?’ we shall not be
  able to conceal from ourselves that it is in the _strategical handling
  of the Cavalry that by far the greatest possibilities lie_. Charges
  even of numerically considerable bodies on the battle-field can only
  lead to success under very special conditions, and even for the
  protection of a retreat our rôle can only be a subordinate one. But
  for reconnaissance and screening, for operations against the enemy’s
  communications, for the pursuit of a beaten enemy, and all similar
  operations of warfare, the Cavalry is, and remains, the principal arm.
  Here no other can take its place, for none possesses the requisite
  mobility and independence.”

The meaning of this is plain, if we remember that Bernhardi contemplates
only one type of horsemen, Cavalry, which are the only troops with the
“requisite mobility and independence” to reconnoitre, screen, and
pursue. It is a truism that horses facilitate these objects. Their
weapon is a distinct question, and all that precedes is an implicit
condemnation of the steel, at any rate for anything in the nature of
mixed combat. The reader will bear in mind the passages on pursuit.

Now, in the light of this passage and all that precedes it, read the
chapter on “Leading in Mounted Combats.” Combats against whom? Surely
against mounted Cavalry? Surely “collision” must, in its context, mean
that? Yet for twenty full pages we read on, more and more bewildered,
through passages more and more suggestive of mixed general combat, until
on page 83 we come with a shock to the isolated consideration of
“Cavalry duels,” which he declares to be “essential,” though he admits
that they led to “mutual paralysis” and “deadlock” during the war of
1870. A moment later, and for the rest of the chapter, he is deep once
more in fire and all that appertains to fire on the modern
“battle-field.” And he ends with an eloquent purple patch on the “real
work” of Cavalry being in _pursuit_.

Happily, in the case of Bernhardi, one is dealing with what _au fond_ is
not a complex mental structure. He does not arrange his subject with any
ulterior purpose. He does not seriously attempt to reconcile faith with
science, the _arme blanche_ with the firearm. He passes from one to the
other with complete _insouciance_, instinctively locking the
thought-tight door which divides them, and bestowing on both the
enthusiasm of an ardent nature. But the enthusiasm is of significantly
different qualities. For the firearm it is predominantly technical and
scientific; for the _arme blanche_ it is romantic. In this very chapter,
having delivered himself of the _raison d’être_, he enlarges on the
difficulties of manœuvring and leading masses of Cavalry for shock,
and shows himself acutely alive to the artificiality of the whole
system, to its liability to fall to pieces under stress of a few
rifle-shots, and to the absolute impossibility of effecting a sudden
tactical transformation to fire-action under pressure of unforeseen
conditions, after an advance has begun. The steel is treated poetically.
For some reason it has always been regarded as a poetical element in
war. In these days of scientific brutality, the less poetry unfounded on
hard science and hard facts the better. It is better to be busy in
battle with a prosaic weapon than to be idly weaving dreams which never
come true. In Bernhardi, the poetry being on the surface, the profound
physical and moral fallacies, underlying the _arme blanche_ for Cavalry,
become the more patent.

Take, for example, this conception of the indispensable inter-Cavalry
_shock_ fight, which, as I say, I think he really believes to be the
only serious rôle of the steel, though, by the way, he never explicitly
says in speaking specifically of the Cavalry duel, that it must be a
_shock_ duel (p. 83). I suspect that such a categorical axiom would
revolt his common sense. Remember once more that he regards the ideal
Cavalry _qua_ riflemen, as the _equals_ of Infantry, technically and
morally. Read back, or forward, and see what he says about the steel
versus Infantry, about Cavalry having been driven out of their place of
honour on the battle-fields of the _plains_, about the revolution in
conditions caused by arms of precision, etc. Then recollect that
Cavalry, unlike Infantry, have horses, allow for country which is not a
plain, and construct your own picture of the duel. Lastly, test your
picture by South African experience, where the duel, without a trace of
shock, lasted for two and a half years, and include, as the finishing
touch, the fact, which Bernhardi only once dimly adumbrates and has not
seriously envisaged, that mounted riflemen can charge.

One searches the whole of his volume in vain for light upon the
profoundly difficult questions which arise from this intermixture of
steel-tactics and fire-tactics in one Arm. Though in spirit the whole
book is a recognition of the fact that the firearm is absolute arbiter
of modern combats, directly he regards the steel in isolation he becomes
completely absorbed in “mass” formations, and in every species of drill
and manœuvre which is antagonistic to, and abhorrent to,
fire-tactics. In this steel mood there is no confusion in his mind about
the meaning of “shock.” There is no compromise toward “extensions.” For
Cavalry charging against Cavalry (pp. 221, 222), “it is a vital article
of faith that only the closest knee-to-knee riding—jamming the files
together by pressure from the flanks—will guarantee victory or their
personal safety.” Against “Infantry” (and why not against dismounted
Cavalry?) the utmost he concedes is that the “files must be loosened,
and every horse go in his normal stride,” but perfect cohesion and
symmetry must be maintained. In other words, the essence of true
shock—heavy impact—is retained without any qualification. The General,
from his own point of view, is perfectly right. Unlike Mr. Goldman, he
would have ridiculed the idea that there was shock at Klip Drift with
the troopers many yards apart.

And now contrast the directions of our own “Cavalry Training,” whose
compilers, more sophisticated than the innocent Bernhardi, cannot
proceed too far in defining shock and the purposes of shock for fear of
falling into transparent solecisms. Section 103 (p. 125) is entitled
“Instruction in the Attack against Cavalry.” (Note the tacit assumption
that Cavalry are always on horseback and always on plains, for on any
other interpretation the section is meaningless.) The charge, it is laid
down, must have “rapidity and vehemence ... firm cohesion, highest
speed, and determination to win, ...” but “cohesion” is only further
defined as “riding close.” If this is a symptom of compromise, it is
fatal compromise from the point of view of shock; for I noticed that in
criticizing inter-Cavalry charges at the Cavalry manœuvres of 1909,
the Military Correspondent of the _Times_ repeatedly censured the lack
of cohesion and “boot-to-boot” riding as likely to cause failure against
“the best foreign horsemen.”[77] What a satire on our imitative policy!
But in Section 104 (p. 129), “Instruction in the Attack against Infantry
and Guns,” a reason appears for some anticipatory tinge of compromise.
“The troop will usually attack in an _extended formation_.” And here,
too, according to Colonel Repington, the Cavalry in 1909 were not up to
the mark, this time from excess of cohesion.[78] Again we see the fatal
results of compromise.


Footnote 77:

  _Times_, September 2, 16, etc., 1909.

Footnote 78:

  _Times_, September 16, 1909.


All this would be anathema to Bernhardi, who by a singular irony is the
model of our Cavalry School. He knew what shock was, and however
flagrant the inconsistencies he was drawn into, clung honestly to that
true conception. Our authorities know perfectly well that these extended
formations are utterly incompatible with shock, and ought to know from
South African experience that they are only strictly compatible with a
fire-object and a fire-spirit. Then, indeed, they are formidable.

Had I space I could multiply examples of inconsistency in Bernhardi’s
book. How, after war experience of our own, the _arme blanche_ school in
this country had the courage to enlist under his banner was a mystery to
me on first reading his book, until I came to that blessed formula on
page 90, which I had better repeat once more.

  “Moreover, in the power of holding the balance correctly between
  fire-power and shock, and in the training for the former never to
  allow the troops to lose confidence in the latter, lies the real
  essence of the Cavalry spirit.”

This is his solitary attempt at verbal reconciliation. It is, of course,
only verbal. The counsel of perfection is never fortified by practical
instruction. There is scarcely an attempt to show that it is humanly
possible to create the ideal hybrid, or to show, even if it be created,
how to combine harmoniously the two sets of incompatible functions in
one scheme of tactics. On the contrary, the deeper he gets into the
topic of training the more patent becomes the impossibility of
performing this miracle.

The Austrians are more logical. Count Wrangel says:

  "The ideal would perhaps be for them [_i.e._, Cavalry] to do each
  equally willingly—_i.e._, to be equally efficient with the carbine as
  with the _arme blanche_; in this we include, besides sword and lance,
  horsemanship. _The attainment of this ideal is, in our opinion,
  practically impossible._ Not only on account of the short service,
  which scarcely is sufficient to make a man at one and the same time a
  clever rider, swordsman, and shooter, but also because the sword and
  the carbine are such _different masters_ that the Cavalryman simply
  cannot serve both with the same love.

  “It requires quite a different temperament to ride to the attack with
  drawn sword at the gallop than it does to wait for hours placidly
  aiming in a fire position.” (Observe that Wrangel has never heard of
  rifle charges, and thinks that both sides in South Africa sat out the
  war “placidly aiming.”)

  "As long as we lay principal stress on good dashing horsemanship and
  the clever handling of the _arme blanche_, and relegate training with
  the rifle to the second place, so long shall we foster the _offensive_
  spirit of our Cavalry" (“Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” p. 55).

Wrangel is wrong, but he is frank. De Negrier is both frank and right in
dismissing the steel save for occasions when "_la panique saisit les
troupes en désordre_." Right, too, are the Americans.

Bernhardi’s book is a crushing refutation of Wrangel, and a vindication
of de Negrier. Indeed, in his heart of hearts I believe he suspects his
formula of balance to be only a counsel of perfection, for in the lines
which immediately precede it he implies that only a leader of very rare
genius will be capable of combining both systems. As for the
men—silence. The formula, moreover, must be read in its context. At the
moment he is in his fire-mood, addressing remarks on the “tactical
conduct of dismounted actions” to a Cavalry of whose abysmal ignorance
and incapacity in that branch of war he cannot speak too strongly. He is
sweetening the pill to the refractory patient.

Our own soldiers refuse to follow Lord Roberts and de Negrier, and
cannot officially say what Wrangel says, because there are still some
memories of South Africa left, and Wrangel’s opinion is simply pre-South
African opinion as embodied in the pre-war Manual. So they have taken
Bernhardi’s formula (“Cavalry Training,” p. 187), add on their own
account that “thorough perfection” in both weapons is necessary
(Wrangel’s impossibility), and by an ambiguous mixture of contradictory
counsels manage to save their face in the matter of fire while actually
insinuating the full truth of Wrangel’s view as to the paramount
importance of the steel. The formula of balance is sandwiched between
two passages on the same page which reduce the idea of “balance” to a
nullity, and which I must now repeat again. The first is:

  “Squadrons must be able to attack on foot _when the situation
  imperatively demands it_.”

The second is:

  “It must be accepted as a principle that the rifle, effective as it
  is, cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the
  magnetism of the charge, and the _terror of cold steel_. For when
  opportunities for mounted action occur, these characteristics combine
  to inspire such dash, enthusiasm, and moral ascendency that Cavalry is
  rendered irresistible.”

And we may add that immediately before this latter passage comes another
which suggests Wrangel’s idea that fire-action is mainly defensive.
“Experience in war and peace teaches us that the average leader is only
too ready to resort to dismounted action, which often results in acting
defensively.” It is true that the compilers add that it is important to
lay stress on offensive tactics for Cavalry, _even when fighting on
foot_, but what chance has that little proviso when they are told in the
next breath that dash comes from the steel?

That assertion is far more sweeping and positive than anything to be
found in Bernhardi, who would stultify himself if he spoke in such a
general way of the “imperative demands of the situation,” of the
“defensive” function of the firearm, or of the “terror of cold steel.”
His whole work is a demonstration, not only of the pressing importance
of dash in aggressive fire-action, but of the fact that “even inferior”
riflemen, unless in a state of abject panic, do not and need not have
the smallest fear of the sword and lance, and to say in so many words
that the only persons terrified by those weapons are the Cavalry
themselves (who are also riflemen) is more than he could do. I have
pointed out that he does make a belated attempt to define, at any rate
inferentially, the function of the steel. “Cavalry Training” makes none.
Hence “terror” is permissible.

Of course, our official drill-book, in spite of its struggles for
compromise, cannot hide the old _reductio ad absurdum_. Here is its list
of occasions (pp. 186, 187) which demand fire-action: (1) Enemy
entrenched; (2) enemy occupying “broken or intersected ground” (_e.g._,
most of England and much of Europe); (3) enemy’s convoy marching under
escort; (4) enemy occupying extended position (in other words, the enemy
in his normal position in all modern war); (5) covering a retreat; (6)
enabling a scattered force to concentrate with a view to “decisive
mounted action”; (7) in the case of numerical inferiority in Cavalry; to
which we must add (8) (from p. 215) “occupying localities for defence”;
(9) patrol work (where combat is necessary); and (10) (from p. 229) in
pursuit, (where, following Bernhardi, the method is to be by fire,
except in case of complete demoralization of the enemy). And yet, in the
face of this exhaustive list, Cavalry are only to act by fire when the
“situation imperatively demands it!” I think, perhaps, that of all the
list No. (3) is the one which appeals most to the sense of humour—if it
were a case for humour. It is the only unmistakable allusion to the Boer
War in the whole handbook. Otherwise that war might never have been
fought, for all the direct recognition it obtains. The idea is, I
suppose, that reverses were specially associated with convoys, so that
some special concession to fire is needed in that connection to lull the
doubts of questioning minds. Unhappily the concession, if it is to be
reconciled with the efficacy of the steel weapon at all, cannot possibly
be expressed in intelligible language. Why in the world should “mounted
attack” on a convoy involve abnormally “wide outflanking operations” (p.
188)? The escort, pinned more or less closely to a mass of transport,
is, on the contrary, abnormally devoid of independent mobility, and
abnormally open to direct attack at the will of the aggressor. And what
is the meaning of this implied distinction between the “outflanking”
character of a “mounted attack” and the direct character of a
fire-attack? Cannot shock charges be direct, frontal? Observe the
revenge which overtakes timid concession. Here is one more implicit
betrayal of the steel, one more case of confusion between mobility and
combat. Whether you attack the advance-guard, or rear-guard, or
flank-guards of a convoy makes no difference to the weapon. If your
shock charge is of any use, use it. And the bitter irony of it all is
that it was in the attack upon convoys, or columns hampered by a large
transport, that the Boers used the “mounted attack” with the most
effect. But it was not the mounted attack meant by “Cavalry Training.”
It was the rifle charge, as at Yzer Spruit, Kleinfontein, Vlakfontein,
etc. (Chapter XI. above).

Bernhardi, in many other respects, is a sounder guide to the value of
fire-action than “Cavalry Training.” He insists, for instance (p. 176),
on the vital point that the firearm should be carried on the back, “as
is the practice of all races of born horsemen,” not attached to the
saddle, as our Cavalry carry it, and shows thereby that he is more alive
than they are to the real spirit of fire. Although, regardless of
consistency, he blurts out truths about fire which cut at the root of
the steel theory, he generally succeeds in avoiding statements about
steel which would nullify his conclusions about fire.

To illustrate this, let me return once more to the “shock duel,” as
between (1) independent Cavalries operating strategically, (2) on the
general battle-field. The former case is dealt with in “Cavalry
Training” on pages 193, 194, and in Bernhardi on pages 29–31; the later
case on page 206 of our Manual, and on pages 82–84 of the German book.
Bernhardi talks always in vague terms of the Cavalry duel, without
mentioning shock, though I grant that he assumes it. But I am perfectly
sure that he would not go so far as to say what “Cavalry Training” says
on page 194: “On such occasions dismounted action will at the best have
but a _negative_ result,” and within the space of a few lines to
contrast this “dismounted” action (so limited) with a “vigorous mounted
offensive.” Even with his non-recognition of mounted fire-action, this
is just the kind of proposition which he seems, by a sane, if
unconscious, instinct, to avoid. In point of fact, on page 267 he uses
the epithet “negative” for exactly the opposite purpose, applying it to
the “results obtained by our Cavalry in 1866 and 1870 ... simply and
solely because in _equipment and training_ they lagged behind the
requirements of the time,” a passage which must be read with page 83,
where he deplores the “mutual paralysis” of the duels of 1870. And all
this, let it be remarked, while still believing, with “Cavalry
Training,” that fire-action is of an essentially dismounted,
semi-stationary character, in spite of the lessons of South Africa. If
his pen had begun to frame the word “negative” in the sense intended by
“Cavalry Training,” he would in that instant have been converted.

The solemn discussion of the indispensable _shock_ duel in modern war
reminds one of the polemics of medieval schoolmen. It is carried on _in
vacuo_, without the remotest application to the facts of war, without
even one backward glance at South Africa, without support even from the
wars of 1866, 1870, and 1877, and without a gleam of encouragement from
the Russo-Japanese War. Bernhardi on page 83 makes a pathetic effort to
explain its failure at Mars la Tour, and the consequent absence of any
decisive effect of the Prussian Cavalry upon the battle-field, in spite
of their superiority, by saying vaguely that “neither their training nor
the comprehension of their duties was on a level with the requirements
of the time.” For the real reason turn to his chapters on fire-action
and to the passage I have just quoted from page 267, noting “equipment.”
The truth is that their training for shock was _too_ good, and the
comprehension of their shock duties so rooted as to be paralyzing. Why
should the Cavalry, of all arms, have lacked dash when the rest of the
Prussian army was afire with dash, when Infantry commanders had so often
to be blamed for excessive rashness? Why, indeed, save that Cavalry dash
was founded on the wrong weapon? As usual, when hard pressed, Bernhardi
relapses into poetry, and urges his Cavalry to “stake their souls” and
“risk the last man and the last horse” (p. 84). How strangely these
antique dithyrambs ring! Do not Infantry stake their souls, and risk
their last man, and all the rest of it? Not a whit braver than the
Cavalry, did not they, simply because they had a good weapon, show more
aggressive tackling power in South Africa than the Cavalry? It is cruel
to brave men to give them a bad weapon, tell them to found their dash on
it, and then to blame them for lack of dash; doubly cruel and doubly
absurd to tell them that they are _par excellence_ an arm of _offence_,
as “Cavalry Training” tells them on page 187. They are not a more
offensive arm than Infantry or Artillery. Defensive soldiers are a
contradiction in terms. How explain the mechanical repetition, decade
after decade, in spite of all disillusionment, of this axiom—that it is
peculiarly the province of Cavalry to sacrifice their last man in
winning victories? As a fact, all arms, in honourable rivalry, must and
do make supreme sacrifices for supreme ends. The explanation is that the
_arme blanche_ is solely a weapon of offence, which has lost its utility
and kept its fascination. The idea, I think, can be traced to the days
when the duties of reconnaissance were relatively light, and when
Cavalry were reserved on the battle-field for special steel functions,
such as pursuit, or some desperate assault. All that is changed, by
universal recognition. Reconnaissance is infinitely more difficult,
exhausting, and important. On the battle-field special opportunities for
the steel never, in fact, arise. But Cavalry must be busy, and busy with
the rifle.

A last word on the “Cavalry duel.” That it must be one of the grand
objects of Cavalry to overcome the enemy’s Cavalry is a truism. Whether,
in the strategical action of independent Cavalry for the purpose of
discovering hostile intentions and dispositions, it is best to pursue
from the beginning a policy of wide dispersion, or to concentrate at the
outset and drive the enemy’s independent Cavalry off the field, has
often been debated, and is settled now by Bernhardi and “Cavalry
Training” in favour of concentration. It is all pure theory, unsupported
by any facts either from Manchuria or from South Africa, where our
reconnaissance was very bad. Let us, however, for the sake of argument,
follow them. But that this collision, either of the concentrated
independent Cavalries, or of concentrated Cavalries, in whatever
capacity, on the battle-field, must take the form of shock, and can only
be decided by shock, is, surely, a preposterous thing for serious men to
waste time in proving. De Negrier, with the simplest illustrations from
modern war, kills it with ridicule. In England, at any rate, you cannot
get conditions of shock for large masses of Cavalry without deliberate
selection from a small choice of areas. In practising as independent
units, so as to represent rival strategical Cavalries, we choose
suitable areas, and arrange for shock ground adaptable to it. In
practising for the general battle-field we can obtain the conditions for
shock between large masses of opposing Cavalry only by arranging
friendly appointments between the two sides, as at Lambourne Downs on
the third day of the general Army manœuvres of 1909. And in all
cases, of course, we carefully impress upon both Cavalries that
collisions without shock are “negative.” Perhaps war in England is
another “peculiar” war, like the Boer War. But in regard to terrain
every war in Europe will be “peculiarly” bad for shock, as compared with
South Africa.

Probe to the bottom this delusion about the “negative” effect of
fire-action, and you will find for the hundredth time the confusion
between mobility and combat. Suppose that one of the Cavalries consists
at a given moment of Infantry, a paradoxical state of things which often
happened with the Japanese in Manchuria. The action of this Infantry
will not be _negative_, as against Cavalry using shock and only shock.
Consult “Infantry Training” and the Manchurian War, and you will find
that Infantry, averagely well led and trained, can go where they please,
both in reconnaissance and combat, without fear of the _lance or sword_.
Where they fail is in mobility, and that is why we use horsemen for all
the duties of war which require high mobility. If the horsemen have
Infantry rifles, and use them well, in conjunction with the horse, then,
indeed, in combat as well as in speed, in tactical as well as in
strategical mobility, they outmatch Infantry, and impose _negative_
action on them. Not otherwise, and precisely the same thing applies _a
fortiori_ to mounted combats.

Another point: What are “masses”? I take the word from Bernhardi, who
seems not to contemplate shock without great masses, the greater the
better. Between the mass and the patrol, where is shock to come in? The
patrol, where combat is necessary, according to “Cavalry Training,” acts
chiefly with fire, and Bernhardi says the same. For what size of unit
does shock begin to be specially applicable? “Cavalry Training” is dumb.
Bernhardi, more frank, as usual, seems to imply that it is really
applicable only to very large masses. But why this mystery? Why should
not even patrols use it? Shock is silent, and therefore suitable. Does
it make any difference whether the unit is 10, 50, or 100 strong, or
500, or 1,000, or 5,000? From the _arme blanche_ point of view it is
wiser to leave the question unanswered. The answer would throw a flood
of light on the “peculiar” conditions of South Africa, where during a
great part of the war the numbers engaged were comparatively small.

Once more I commend this topic to those Yeomanry officers who are asking
for the sword, not with the ambitious dream of using it in “mass,” but
with the idea that for small casual combats it is a necessity. It was
_never_ so used in South Africa, and if they realized what inexperience
with the rifle involved for the Yeomanry in that war—what miserable
humiliations and losses—they would be silent. But why should they be
silent, as things are? High authorities tell them the war was peculiar,
and recommend them to study German books. It is difficult to speak with
restraint on this matter.

Let the reader study closely “Cavalry Training” and “Mounted Infantry
Training” in the light both of Bernhardi and of the South African War.
Without undervaluing their many excellences, let him apply the
searchlight to all parts which have any bearing on weapons, and ask
himself whether that point has been thoroughly thought out, and brought
logically into line with modern experience. I have said little about
“Mounted Infantry Training.” I wonder what Bernhardi would think of it.
Tantalizing speculation! Would he give them “the place of honour on the
battle-fields of the plains” which he denies to Cavalry? Would he give
them or deny them reconnaissance and pursuit? How would he class them?
What would his feeling be when he found them exhorted in one breath to
use saddle-fire in the manner of the Boers (with their congenital
“habits and instincts”), and in the next to form square to repel
Cavalry—a form of defence abandoned even by Infantry?

I now leave Bernhardi, whom, if he be intelligently read, with an eye to
the Cavalry for which he wrote, I venture to regard as one of the most
serious enemies the steel has ever had, and one of the best advocates of
the rifle.

But when we compare him, in his two diverse moods, with the German
Official Historians with the Austrian Count Wrangel, with the British
“Cavalry Training,” with the French system of training, with Colonel
Repington, General French, and Mr. Goldman, and with the facts of modern
war, what irreconcilable contradictions, what a tangle of
self-refutation and mutual refutation!

And what is our grand motive in following this _enfant terrible_? I
repeat the words which were my text: “We must not be deficient in a
weapon possessed by potential foes.” Probably the same motive dimly
influences our potential foes. Who knows how far this imitative instinct
extends? It must strike foreigners as a very remarkable fact that in
spite of a three years’ war without shock we have reverted to shock. To
whom do they probably look for the explanation? No doubt to
distinguished soldiers now in high authority, and so the process of
mutual mystification goes on, the blind leading the blind. But the
proverb scarcely applies to the case of Bernhardi’s influence upon our
own Cavalry. That, it seems to me, is the case of a guide with a sure
instinct, but short sight, leading one who knows the way, but has
wilfully bandaged his eyes.

Of European nations we alone know the full truth, because we alone have
evolved the first-class mounted rifleman, and we alone know his supreme
value. England bought that secret with two hundred millions of money and
twenty thousand lives. Why not make use of it?

                              CHAPTER XIV
                         THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR

Soon after Bernhardi published his second edition of “Cavalry in Future
Wars,” the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 broke out. Like the Boer War, it
fulfilled to the letter all his prognostications as to the value of fire
for Cavalry and belied all his theories as to the “collision of Cavalry
masses.” Whether he regarded it as abnormal, I do not know. But here, to
our own _arme blanche_ school, as we might have expected, is another
“peculiar” war.

It was the second great land war between civilized races since the
invention of the smokeless, long-range magazine rifle. It was attended
by many circumstances which were absent in South Africa. Both armies
were constructed on the European model; both were regular, not
volunteer; both were in very large force; both possessed steel-armed
Cavalry. The war, in shorts, may be said to have been the complement of
the Boer War in illustrating all those conditions which were not present
in South Africa, but which are likely to be present in a European war.
Much of the terrain was even better than South Africa for shock-tactics.
Though from the Yalu to Liao-yang the campaign was fought in a
mountainous area, from the Tai-tse-ho northward vast open plains,
unfenced, unobstructed, of a character not to be met with in any likely
European war-area, were the rule.

What happened? No shock. That is not quite literally true of
inter-Cavalry combats, for history records one almost laughably trivial
case of pseudo-shock. There are said to have been others between patrols
in the early days.[79] Not a single charge against riflemen on foot. The
lance and sword were nowhere. In combat the rifle was supreme, banishing
the very thought of the sword even from the minds of those who carried
it, and inspiring the only effective action for Cavalry as for Infantry.


Footnote 79:

  The recorded case (referred to later) was at Telissu. Colonel
  McClernand, the U.S. Official Cavalry observer, quotes the Colonel of
  the Japanese Cavalry of the Guard as having referred to a few steel
  combats between patrols in the early months of the war.


I ventured to describe the Boer War as presenting a mass of evidence,
vast, various, cogent, against the steel, and in favour of the rifle.
Here is another mass of complementary evidence, equally vast, various,
and cogent, drawn from the very type of war which our soldiers now
envisage—namely, one waged between European armies—in a temperate
climate, at any rate in the matter of heat, and in which both Cavalries
possess the _arme blanche_.

Before he begins even to think about explanations, I want the reader to
grasp the broad _facts_ in all their naked simplicity. Four years of war
in all in South Africa and Manchuria, under every imaginable condition.
No shock. In our war a few small cases of pseudo-shock, which belong
strictly to the realm of the rifle. Numerous rifle charges, some very
deadly. In both wars the rifle supreme, the steel negligible. What
miraculous combination of circumstances could warrant our calling the
Manchurian War in its turn “peculiar”?

In England, the _arme blanche_ theory for a moment seemed to be in great
danger. Some prompt and decisive counter-stroke was indispensable. There
could be no compromise here, nothing but a bold lunge straight at the
heart would suffice to fell the now formidable heresy. What form did the
stroke take? I give it in the words of General Sir John French:

  “That the Cavalry on both sides in the recent war did not distinguish
  themselves or their arm is an undoubted fact, but the reason is quite
  apparent. On the Japanese side they were indifferently mounted, the
  riding was not good, and they were very inferior in numbers, and hence
  were only enabled to fulfil generally the rôle of Divisional Cavalry,
  which they appear to have done very well. The cause of failure on the
  Russian side is to be found in the fact that for years they have been
  trained on _exactly the same principles_ which these writers” (_i.e._,
  advocates of mounted riflemen) “now advocate. They were devoid of real
  Cavalry training, they thought of nothing but getting off their horses
  and shooting; hence they lamentably failed in enterprises which
  demanded, before all, a display of the highest form of the ‘Cavalry
  spirit’” (Introduction to Bernhardi, p. xxvii.).

It is true that these words were published in 1906, when information was
still limited; but they appear unmodified in the edition of 1909, and
they are in strict accordance with the theory on which our Cavalry are
at this moment trained. To bring them into line with the facts as now
known would be to declare the _arme blanche_ theory a myth, and to
shatter the system based on it.

But before approaching the facts, I propose, as in Chapter XII., to
criticize the attitude of mind which permits a high Cavalry authority to
brush aside with such confidence another great war in which the sword
and lance fell into complete oblivion. It seems to be perfectly useless
for critics of those weapons to heap up masses of modern evidence
against them and to prove that there is not a tittle of evidence for
them, if we cannot also show to the public the kind of way in which the
problem is viewed by those responsible for their retention.

General French held high command in a long, mainly mounted war. Explain
away the result as we may, this war did, in fact, produce by long
evolution, under exacting stress, a certain type of soldier common to
both belligerents—the mounted rifleman. It was a splendid type on both
sides, and if we combine the best qualities of Britons and Boers we can,
if we please, construct from it an ideal type. At any rate, what these
troops did is on record. The greater their excellence in combining, for
strenuous practical work, the rifle and the horse, the better the
results. This was the criterion of success. Herein lay “dash”; herein,
to borrow General French’s words, lay the “highest form of the ‘Cavalry
spirit.’” It was by approximation to this standard, and by oblivion of
all methods directly associated with the steel, that the regular Cavalry
acquitted themselves best. It was our glory, not our shame, that we were
able to produce this type, and to make it attain, even in the case of
raw volunteers, to such a high standard. It was the glory of our brave
enemies that, by virtue of progressive excellence in this type, they
were able to make the task of the stronger nation so long, costly, and

How does General French represent this type when he is deploring the
failure of the hybrid type in Manchuria? The Russians, he says, “were
devoid of real Cavalry training. They thought of nothing but getting off
their horses and shooting,” and had no “Cavalry spirit,” and these, the
General says, were “exactly the same principles” which admirers of
mounted riflemen advocate. No wonder he resents such advocacy, if such
are the “principles,” and no wonder he objects to mounted riflemen who
are taught to regard their horses as checks, not helps, to mobility and
dash. So far from being his opponents’ “principles,” these are the very
principles upon which, under the blighting influence of the _arme
blanche_ school, our fine force of existing Mounted Infantry is
starved—theoretically, at any rate, into a sort of humble subservience
to the steel.

Now, would it not be more natural and normal if, knowing what he knows
by war-experience of what mounted riflemen can do, General French were
to approach this Manchurian question from a somewhat different
standpoint? Should he not consider the possibility that the Russian
Cavalry, which was armed “on exactly the same principles” which he
advocates—and was not, as he seems to imply, trained only in the
firearm—might have failed through lack of excellence in the
whole-hearted union of the rifle and the horse, as the joint
constituents of that aggressive mobility which constitutes the “spirit”
of the mounted rifleman? But no. He rushes at once to the conclusion
least capable of proof, the conclusion for which there are no positive
data since 1870, and very little then, since there were no smokeless,
long-range rifles, nor any type of mounted rifleman to force the issue
into prominence.

And to what strange conclusions his contemptuous definition of the
mounted rifleman brings him! In the admirable Colesberg operations, when
the steel did nothing and inspired nothing, we know that his own
Cavalry, under his own direction, were “continually getting off their
horses and shooting.” After their thirty-mile ride from Kimberley (and
the steel did not help them to _ride_) to intercept Cronje, the same
Cavalry did well only through forgetting their “real Cavalry training,”
and taking what he regards as the discreditable step of “getting off
their horses to shoot.” So did De Wet’s men in their equally long rides
to the fields of Paardeberg and Sannah’s Post. It is true that on many
occasions the Cavalry, when in superior force, were too ready, not
through lack of spirit but through inherent faults of training, to
dismount _prematurely_ and take to the carbine. But at whose compulsion?
That of mounted riflemen. And why? Precisely because they had not
grasped “the highest form of the ‘Cavalry spirit’”—reliance on horse and
firearm in combination. The rifle charge, taught us by the Boers, is, to
say the least, not described in an illuminating way by the words
“getting off their horses to shoot.” Saddle-fire apart, the words,
nevertheless, are perfectly accurate. But the Boers shot to more
terrible purpose than the Cavalry shot. Historical truth compels us to
add that many of our own mounted riflemen excelled the Cavalry in this
respect. The handful of Mounted Infantry, who after a chase of many days
pounced on and pinned down De Wet at Bothaville, were working, I submit,
on the right “principles.” So were the Australians who hung on the same
leader’s heels in the desperate hunt of February, 1901.

If this is General French’s mental attitude towards the Manchurian War,
I am afraid we cannot expect to find him expressing himself lucidly and
cogently on the subject. Turn back to the passage I quoted. The
Japanese, he says, indifferently mounted, indifferent riders, and
inferior in numbers—drawbacks, be it noted, which are as serious for
genuine mounted riflemen as for Cavalry—did very well, but only as
Divisional Cavalry. The meaning is not very plain (for they never did
well with the steel), but I take it to be this: In our own army the
Divisional Cavalry consist, not of Cavalry, but of Mounted Infantry.
Their duties, as officially laid down, are “to assist the Infantry in
the immediate protection of the division by supplying mounted men for
divisional patrolling in connection with the advanced, flank, and rear
guards and outposts; to maintain connection with the protective
Cavalry,” and other small duties. Proceeding from this analogy, the
General means, I gather, to convey that the Japanese Cavalry, acting in
those minor capacities, did very well as mounted riflemen. That is all
to the good, and presumably they would have done better still with
better horses, better riding, and greater numbers.

Is there not also a presumption that with these added advantages they
would have done better still in larger rôles as mounted riflemen? But
where is the argument leading us? Here are the Russians. No praise for
them, even in minor rôles, and even with their better horses, better
riding, immense numbers, and, above all, their “years of training” as
mounted riflemen. Surely the latter characteristic alone would have
enabled them, _qua_ mounted riflemen, to overcome the few and badly
equipped Japanese Cavalry acting as mounted riflemen? Overcome them, I
mean, not merely in minor capacities, but in all the large and important
functions of Cavalry?

The General tacitly admits that neither side made use of the steel. And
yet, why not? One can understand that with these manifold sources of
weakness which he details they did not attack Infantry with the steel,
but why not attack one another? Was the mutual “terror of cold steel” so
great as to neutralize the steel? The two Cavalries frequently met in
different capacities and in different shades of numerical strength,
strategically and tactically. Surely when both sides carry steel weapons
this second total disappearance of the “shock duel,” officially held to
be an inevitable feature of modern war, both in the strategical and
tactical phases, needs further explanation.

Pursuing our scrutiny with an eye trained to detect the _arme blanche_
bias in its myriad fleeting forms, we detect a clue in the word
“enterprises” near the end. This suggests neither the battle-field nor
reconnaissance, but distinctly the big raid. We recall Mr. Goldman’s
complaint of the strategical mishandling of the Cavalry in South Africa,
and his assumption that big raids must end in shock-tactics.

I do not know if this was in the General’s mind when he wrote of
“enterprises which demanded before all a display of the highest form of
the ‘Cavalry spirit.’” If it was, I can only respectfully repeat my
view, expressed frequently elsewhere, that there is here a radical
confusion of thought between combat and strategy, between mobility in
its broadest sense and tactics, and Bernhardi would be the first to tell
him so. Fortunately, this question of raids is as open to positive
demonstration by Manchurian facts as any other point of Cavalry
practice. But before even approaching the Manchurian facts, and taking
my stand purely on South African lessons, I have shown, I hope, that
_prima facie_ the General’s reason for the comparative failure of the
two Cavalries is open to the strongest suspicion. The facts themselves
dispose of the reason altogether.

It was never part of my scheme to deal in detail with the Manchurian
story. I believe that for Englishmen, their own great war should be
sufficient evidence. And yet, having reached this point, I feel inclined
to regret that I did not begin with the Asiatic war, hardly complete as
the material still is, and briefly summarize our own, so exaggerated
seems to be the craving in many minds for foreign precedents and foreign
models, so reckless the disregard for British experience, even when that
experience is most stimulating and glorious. Happily, the Manchurian
data are simple, uniform, and as absolutely free from complications or
apparent contradictions as the South African data whose lessons they

What is the salient point? With all respect to General French, the
salient point for Englishmen, who know by bitter experience that shock
training has failed them, is not whether the Russians or Japanese were
good shock horsemen, but whether they were good mounted riflemen. Our
own Cavalry in South Africa were good shock horsemen, but that did not
save the friends of shock from the necessity of finding elaborate
reasons for the disappearance of shock during that war. Now for our
salient point. Were the Russian Cavalry, who were far the most numerous
and in some ways the better equipped of the two Cavalries, good mounted
riflemen, by our proved standard of what is good? The answer, from all
critics and observers, comes unanimously and emphatically, “No.” In the
first place, they were of the hybrid type, carrying swords and, in the
great majority of cases, lances as well. Their legendary skill in
fire-action proved to be a myth. The Boers would have laughed at them.
Our own mounted riflemen would have regarded them as inefficient and
ignorant. To the surprise of many people, they had none of the “habits
and instincts” for modern war that the Boers had, nothing of the
stalking power, the scouting power, the genius for ground and surprise,
much less the charging power developed. The Historians of our General
Staff (part i., p. 29) supply the explanation: “The system of tactical
training was not unlike that of other European armies. Thus the Cavalry
was trained both for mounted and dismounted combat, but _the musketry
training necessary to make it efficient when on foot fell short of the
requirements of modern war_. The Cossacks, who formed the greater part
of the Russian mounted force, were trained on lines similar to the
regular Cavalry, but did not attain to the standard laid down for the

We must allow, of course, for general causes. The whole Russian army, by
the testimony of its own leaders, was in a backward state, and the
Cavalry was as backward as other arms. Its morale, by comparison with
the Japanese morale, was low. In every arm the officers—that vitally
important element—were ill-educated; in every arm, together with much
splendid devotion and zeal, some of the officers were neglectful of
duty. The Cavalry suffered as much as any arm. Wrangel, the Austrian
critic, describes the greater part of the Russian Cavalry engaged in the
Manchurian Field Army, especially those Cossack organizations which
consisted of troops of the second and third class of reserves, as being
in the general sense “inefficient mounted troops.”[80] Our own Official
Reports, however, give a more favourable impression. The older reserve
men were, no doubt, unfit for the field, but among the Don, Orenburg,
and Trans-Baikal Cossacks there seems to have been some very good


Footnote 80:

  “Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” pp. 8–11.


Mr. McCullagh, in his book, “With the Cossacks,” gives an interesting
description of the great variety of religions, races, languages,
colours, and military types which were embodied in the troops known
broadly as Cossacks. The Caucasians, though they carried carbines,
appear to have been by tradition and choice steel horsemen pure and
simple. But whatever the training, there is no dispute about the
incompetence of all the Cossacks as riflemen. Captain Spaits gives a
distressing account of their failures.[81] McCullagh says: “They had no
skill whatever in attacking entrenched Infantry. _Once dismounted, they
are lost._” (p. 182). Both these writers accompanied them in the field.
On manœuvre and general employment there is an equally general
agreement. Unlike the Japanese, they were maintained for the most part
in large independent bodies, in dim homage, we may presume, to that
“collision of Cavalry masses” which is the basis of the shock theory. So
massed, they were generally idle, just as the Cavalries of 1866, 1870,
and 1877 were too often idle, by the admission of Bernhardi, Kuropatkin,
and Von Moltke. There never appears a trace of talent for fire-tactics,
or an attempt to play either the aggressive or the delaying rôle of the
riflemen in South Africa.


Footnote 81:

  "Mit Kosaken durch die Mandschurei."


What effect had that War had upon Russian Cavalry? None. No more effect
than the brilliant performances of the Civil War leaders had upon the
Austrian, Prussian, and French Cavalries in the wars of 1866 and 1870,
or upon our own Cavalry in 1899. How many Cossack privates had _heard_
of our war? How many of their officers had studied it? Truly those
words, “trained for years on the very principles these writers
advocate,” are a little hard on those Cavalry leaders in South Africa
who led mounted riflemen with distinction. They are very hard, if he
only knew it, on General French.

Kuropatkin (vol. ii., p. 151) is cruelly illuminating. It is true he
never mentions armaments or the tactics derived from it. Nor did Von
Moltke in his equally hard censure of the Prussian Cavalry of 1866 for
the same grave delinquency—timidity on the battle-field. It was left for
Bernhardi to disclose the true cause and the true remedy. Kuropatkin
dwells on “training” and on commanders, most of whom he accuses of
cowardice; for “the material of which our Cavalry was composed was
excellent” (with certain exceptions afterwards named). What “training”
and “command” meant becomes apparent. The Cavalry should have fought as
“_obstinately as Infantry_,” and by way of contrasting the two arms he
gives pitiless statistics of relative casualties at the battles of
Mukden and Telissu, where no observer or historian has ever suggested
that there was any reason for or sense in shock. The single example he
names of a good performance, that of the Cossacks at Yen-tai Mines, was
one of defensive fire-action pure and simple, where the Cavalry “fought
with greater bravery than some of Orloff’s Infantry.” Surely it was
knowledge, not courage, that the rest lacked.

Look at the only large “enterprise” undertaken by the Russian
Cavalry—Mishchenko’s great raid, with 8,000 men and 34 guns, upon
Ying-kou in January, 1905. No better example could be found for proving
the fallacy of associating the success of independent strategical
enterprises with the steel weapon. Of the conditions of success, one
category has nothing to do with combat, but purely with mobility. The
distance was 80 miles, as compared, for example, with the 100-mile raids
imagined by Mr. Goldman for South Africa. There was a slow-moving
millstone of a convoy, requiring protection and limiting speed, exactly
our own difficulty when our mounted troops, Cavalry included, cut
themselves completely adrift from their communications, exactly the
difficulty which Bernhardi insists on when dealing with the limitations
to Cavalry raids. Scouting was bad. Contrast the Boer scouting. Scouts,
at any rate, do not have shock duels. Passing to combat, we find no
shadow of a suggestion in any narrative that there was the remotest
opportunity for shock (except for a case mentioned by McCullagh, where a
Cossack brigade charged a few Chinese brigands). The Japanese troops met
with were always Infantry, and were always in great numerical
inferiority. Until actually reaching Ying-kou, they were met with in the
shape of small detachments guarding villages or railway-bridges. Result,
small fire-actions, in which the Cossacks showed incompetence. Contrast
De Wet’s skill in raiding similar posts. One of the three Russian
columns, several regiments strong, was kept back, says Captain Spaits,
for three hours by half a company of Infantry, which occupied a small
trench—the history of Dronfield and Poplar Grove repeating itself in
Manchuria. Another column was defied by a handful of Infantry at
Niu-chuang. Finally, at Ying-kou, after the repulse of one Russian
column by a precipitately de-trained batch of Japanese Infantry,
Mishchenko, with 1,500 men, made a night attack on the railway-station,
held by 300 Japanese Infantry. His dispositions were painfully crude; he
was repulsed with heavy loss, the retirement, says Colonel Shisnikoff,
was “an utter rout,” and that was the end of the raid. Contrast the Boer
night attacks, so rarely, even when unsuccessful, suffering serious
loss, so often highly successful. The results of the raid, a few
transports burnt and some trivial demolitions on the railway, may be
regarded as _nil_. The retreat to the base was precipitate, headlong,
and what was the reason for the retreat? The rumour that a force of
Japanese _Infantry_ was preparing to block the line of retreat. In view
of what had happened, Mishchenko was right not to risk that contingency.
But is not all this a pitiful satire on the theory of hybrid training?
Observe that the conditions were strictly normal. Raids on
communications always have to meet stationary dismounted detachments of
the enemy. What, then, is the use of a Cavalry which cannot attack and
defeat Infantry by Infantry methods? The only abnormality was the
absence of any hostile Japanese Cavalry throughout the whole course of
the raid. And we are asked to believe that the grand _raison d’être_ for
elaborate and perfect training in the steel is to overthrow the enemy’s
Cavalry, who are also, by our official hypothesis, “thoroughly
efficient” in the rifle, and who, on this occasion, were not present at
all! And after overthrowing them by shock, then there is to be, in
General French’s words, “a brilliant field of enterprise for Cavalry as
mounted riflemen.” Brilliant! “The story of the raid,” says Colonel
Shisnikoff, “is a memory of shame to those who took part in it.” And to
crown all, it is General French’s warning to our Cavalry that the
Cossacks failed in the war owing to overtraining as mounted riflemen!
_Quo non mortalia pectora cogis, ferri sacra fames?_

These are the Cavalry who, he suggests, were trained on _our_ heretical
principles. “Continually getting off their horses!” Is it a disgrace to
dismount? Does he regret that Scobell’s Lancers at Bouwer’s Hoek did not
use shock with the lance in storming Lotter’s laager? Would Mr. Goldman
have had these Russians charge loop-holed buildings on horseback? Once
in the course of this raid, they are said to have charged a wall, and
one account of the night attack on Ying-kou represents some of the
Cossacks as having advanced on foot, “sword in hand.” The true fighting
moral of this enterprise was that the Cossacks should have been better
riflemen. Contrast the great raids of the Civil War, when the firearm,
although so imperfect, was the governing factor. Why were there never
any great raids in the Franco-German War? Study Bernhardi, that
unconscious satirist of the steel, and you will guess why. Lastly,
contrast the Japanese raid (described fully in our “British Officers’
Reports,” ii.) by 172 men, under Colonel Naganuma, who, in the course of
an expedition round the Russian rear, beginning on January 9, 1905,
lasting more than two months, covering a vast distance, and including
several hotly contested fire-actions, achieved the substantial result of
blowing up by night the great railway-bridge at Hsin-kai-ho on February
12. The result was to cause Kuropatkin to divert 8,000 men, including a
division of Cavalry, from the imminent battle of Mukden for the defence
of his communications. This raid and its fellow under Hasegawa were in
the style of Stuart and De Wet. Compare, too, the ride of Smuts to Cape
Colony, and its subsequent results in diverting troops to that quarter
and in actual damage to our forces and communications.[82]


Footnote 82:

  _Times_ History, vol. v., pp. 302–319, 388, 394.


Few as the achievements of the Russian Cavalry were, whatever they did
achieve was through fire-action. Kuropatkin and all critics praise
Samsonoff’s defence of the Yen-tai coal-mines during the battle of
Liao-yang, when he checked by fire the Japanese pursuit of Orloff’s
beaten division. Rennenkampf, another leader of Cavalry who showed signs
of ability, in the course of the great battle of the Sha Ho, led 1,500
Cossacks against the Japanese communications on the upper Tai-tse-ho
(October 8 to 12, 1904). Wrangel commends his enterprise, but admits his
complete failure. Our “British Officers’ Reports,” vol. i., pp. 664–668,
give a full account of the whole episode, and describe the brilliant
success of the Second Japanese Cavalry Brigade under Prince Kanin, first
in anticipating Rennenkampf at Chaotao, which had been defended by only
seventy Infantry for two days, then in driving the Cossacks back and
forcing them to uncover one of their own Infantry brigades, which was
attacking Pen-hse-hu, on the northern bank of the Tai-tse-ho. Prince
Kanin, unmolested by the Cossacks, proceeded to surprise the reserve
battalions of this brigade, and in the space of a few minutes killed
many hundreds with his six Maxims. The result was the retirement of the
Russian left and Stackelberg’s eventual retreat. Needless to say, there
was no question of shock between the two Cavalries, nor any suggestion
from any quarter that there was any reason for it or possibility of it.

Wrangel credits the Russians with having “adequately solved some
strategical tasks”—for instance, the guarding of the passes of the
Fen-shui-ling Mountains against Kuroki and Nodzu, and the discovery, but
nothing more than the bare discovery, of Kuroki’s flank movement at
Liao-yang, and of Nogi’s terrible turning stroke at the battle of
Mukden. In other respects they showed the most pitiful weakness at that
last great crisis. No less than 25,000 strong, they were outmanœuvred
and outfought by two brigades of Japanese Cavalry acting with Infantry.
Of course no shock duel, and yet was the effect of the Japanese Cavalry
“negative,” in the words of “Cavalry Training”? On the contrary, it was
tremendously positive, and with larger numbers might have been as
decisive as Sheridan’s interception of Lee in April, 1865. Wrangel
gravely remarks that _if_ the Cossacks had first overthrown the Japanese
Cavalry a great rôle would have been open to them in resisting Nogi’s
main force—not, he goes out of his way to say, with the _arme blanche_,
but with fire-action. The old story! If they could not overcome even the
Japanese hybrid Cavalry with fire, how could they overcome Japanese
Infantry? As for shock, it is cynical levity to breathe the word in
connection with that Titanic fire-struggle of March, 1905.

Wrangel himself throws some light on these perplexing conundrums. It is
on page 24. He has just been deploring the fiasco of Mishchenko’s raid,
and has added that throughout the war the Russian Cavalry showed none of
that “desire for action” which “we recognize as the first and most
important attribute of our arm.” (As though, forsooth, it was not the
first attribute of Infantry and Artillery!) We await resignedly the
usual Cavalry dictum—that they were ill-trained for shock, and were
“continually getting off their horses.” Not a bit of it. He goes on

  “On the other hand, a just critic, without any further ado, must admit
  that the prevailing conditions made it extraordinarily difficult for
  the Cavalry masses of Kuropatkin to play the part of Cavalry in
  battle. Indeed, we do not mind openly declaring that, in our opinion,
  _no other European Cavalry, supported by the principles of the Cavalry
  tactics of the day_, would have been in a position to perform anything
  of note on the Manchurian battle-fields” (“Cavalry in the
  Russo-Japanese War,” p. 23).

He goes on to say that Cavalry cannot attack “Infantry masses” (but
there were no masses during Mishchenko’s raid) unless utterly
demoralized, and that “as long as the two battle-fronts are struggling
with one another, the Cavalry arm is obliged to respect unrestrained the
emptiness of the modern battle-field, ... which is ruled by the magazine

Really, what are we coming to? It was something of a shock to hear
Bernhardi saying that Cavalry had been driven from their place of honour
on the battle-fields of the plains, but that this arm, whose soul is
offence, is to respect unrestrained the emptiness of the modern
battle-field is surely a counsel of appalling levity. Mounted riflemen,
at any rate, do not carry respect for the dangers of the battle-field to
this length. If they had, there would have been no war in South Africa
at all. Our foes would have respected the emptiness of the veld from
Pretoria to Cape Town.

Wrangel marches cheerfully on towards the inevitable _reductio ad

  “As the lion-hearted Japanese Infantry never gave the Russian dragoons
  or Cossacks the pleasure of retreating in disorder to exemplify the
  last-mentioned principles, _it remained only for the latter to seek
  out the hostile Cavalry_. This also the Russian Cavalry divisions did
  not succeed in doing—whether through their own fault remains for the
  present undecided” (_ibid._, p. 29).

This is not sarcastic; it is the sincere thought of a serious Cavalry
soldier, who believes in the _arme blanche_. Here is the admission,
frank and unabashed, that Cavalry, because they are deficient in
fire-power, are only formidable to Cavalry, who are equally deficient in
fire-power; that nobody cares a snap of the fingers for the lance or
sword but those who, choosing to carry those weapons, agree to fear
them. Clearly, even this exception is no exception, because one or both
parties may by caprice or design break the compact and take to the
firearm, which will then “rule the battle-field.” In another passage on
page 17, when commenting on the failure of the Russian Cavalry to use an
“active screen” in the phase of strategical reconnaissance—_i.e._, in
non-battle-field encounters of the rival Cavalries—he gives as a cause
the fact that the “Japanese Cavalry seldom committed themselves to shock
tactics”—precisely the opposite cause alleged by General French—namely,
that the Russians themselves were “continually getting off their
horses.” Wrangel perceives that the steel weapon is lost if this sort of
thing goes on; so in his final conclusion, quoted in my last chapter (p.
316), he urges his own Cavalry to remain deaf to the “so-called”
intelligence of the advocates of fire training, which is impossible to
combine with shock training, but to give the carbine an emphatically
secondary place, and concentrate on shock. If all Cavalries agree on
this self-denying ordinance, then, he implies, ground permitting, and
far from the unseemly fire-scuffles of the battle-fields, we shall have,
if both sides play fair, some grand spectates of shock. There is less
mental chaos in Wrangel than in most exponents of shock, because he
ignores the historical achievements of mounted riflemen, and therefore
feels no need for compromise; but he cannot altogether escape
self-contradiction. In order to proffer an illustration of the theory
that shock should decide inter-Cavalry combats, he instances the first
in the war—at Tschondschu (Tiessu) on March 28, 1904 (pp. 51–53)—a small
affair where six squadrons of Cossacks were driven away from a walled
town by the fire-action of three squadrons of Japanese Cavalry. We read
that the Russians, being in larger force, should have “obtained a
brilliant result” with the _arme blanche_, and also that the Japanese,
after forcing the Russians to accept fire-action, should have charged
and defeated the Russians. At the end we discover that the writer has no
knowledge of the terrain beyond the fact that the town was situated in a
“mountainous district,” from which fact he infers that there must have
been “ground over which the Japanese could have advanced unseen” for
their charge. Truly a startling variation of the usual complaint of lack
of “Cavalry” ground!

It is greatly to be regretted that Count Wrangel’s ignorance of the
attainments of British Cavalry permits him to class them among other
European Cavalries as equally incompetent to have succeeded better than
the Russians on the Manchurian battle-fields. Like de Negrier’s biting
criticism of the French Cavalry, the pronouncement throws a strange
light on our own theory of imitating the armament of Continental armies.
Our Cavalry have very good firearms, and are, so far as time allows,
trained to use them a good deal better than the Austrians permit. And
they _can_ use them well, as they showed in South Africa, where they did
engage in the “battle,” and as they have shown in our recent
manœuvres. But, that point made clear, I make no apology whatever for
quoting at length the Austrian critic in a chapter starting originally
from an appreciation of Manchurian problems by our foremost Cavalry
authority, General French. The fundamental line of reasoning in both
cases is precisely the same, but Wrangel is ruthlessly logical and
careless of the logical consequences. General French’s reasoning leads
him inexorably to precisely the same conclusion as Wrangel—namely, that
steel-armed Cavalry can be formidable only to steel-armed Cavalry. Both
men believe in the indispensable shock duel, both underrate the rifle as
a source of dash—for Cavalry. General French sneers at it in the words
“continually getting off their horses”; Count Wrangel does not sneer at
it. He respects it so much as to banish Cavalry from the sphere of fire
altogether, for clean and decent encounters with a less formidable
weapon. This is the inevitable tendency of the present reaction in
England. “Cavalry Training” and Bernhardi’s book admit, no doubt, of the
most liberal interpretation in the right direction by officers who
resolutely work out to their logical conclusion the directions given for
fire-action, and ignore the conflicting directions for the steel. But
whence is to come this liberal interpretation, when high Cavalry
authorities denounce leanings towards fire as a betrayal of the “Cavalry
spirit,” and, so far from depreciating the sword, add the lance?

Let us turn to the Japanese Cavalry. They were a very small force.
Outside the thirteen, and eventually seventeen divisional regiments of
420 men apiece, which seem to have been in excess of divisional
requirements (for Infantry did much of the work required), there were
only two independent brigades of three regiments apiece—2,300 sabres
together. The troopers carried good firearms, though of too short a
range, but were trained principally for shock, and used the antiquated
German drill-books denounced by Bernhardi. Lances wisely had been left
at home, and only swords taken to the war. The men, constitutionally,
were bad horsemen. Their horses were poor and were overloaded.[83] The
astonishing thing is that they did so well under these conditions. As
soon as they grasped the fact that fire governed action, the talent for
fire which they shared with the Infantry, coupled with great keenness,
was their salvation. Enormously outmatched in numbers, they overawed and
outfought the enemy’s Cavalry; they fulfilled sufficiently well, at any
rate, in conjunction with the Infantry, the task of reconnaissance, both
protective and offensive—and, in short, took a substantial part in
enabling Japan to win the war. Needless to say, they were just as
“lion-hearted”—to use Wrangel’s expression—as other arms, but, having
been trained and armed on false principles, naturally did not win
laurels as great as those of the Infantry. Nevertheless, there is truth,
I believe, in what Wrangel—always frank, at whatever cost—says in the
following passage:

  “The Japanese Cavalry, scarcely without exception, carried out their
  performances with the _carbine_, and in close touch with their own
  Infantry. To this circumstance, without doubt, we have to ascribe the
  principal reason why there has been hesitation among military critics
  in giving full recognition to their activity. A certain
  narrow-mindedness obstructs the means used to gain the end, which in
  no way is inclined to further the interests of the arm” (pp. 49, 50).


Footnote 83:

  Both on horses and on horse-mastership opinions differ (see “British
  Officers’ Reports,” vol. ii., and the U.S. Reports). The figures of
  wastage seem to show good management.


Extraordinary the words seem, in the face of Wrangel’s ultimate
conclusion about the _arme blanche_; but the topic breeds paradox. Still
stranger is what follows:

  “‘_To be victorious is the chief thing._’ Under all circumstances this
  will remain our motto. If we do not succeed with the sword or lance,
  then let us try firearms. If we are too weak to gain success alone,
  then let us only be too thankful and accept without scruple the help
  of our Infantry. Accordingly, on these principles the Japanese Cavalry
  consistently acted. To reproach them because of this is extremely
  unjustifiable” (p. 50).

Then, forgetting that he has previously explained the absence of shock
in the Russians by the Japanese adoption of fire-tactics, he adds:

  “Besides, it must not be forgotten that they (the Japanese), as the
  weakest force, had the manner of fighting dictated to them by their

A whimsical side-light on all of which is thrown by General Sir C. J.
Burnett (“British Officers’ Reports,” vol. ii., p. 543), who thinks the
“much-maligned” Japanese Cavalry, “with their thorough knowledge of
shock-tactics,” must have found it “gall and wormwood to hang on to the
skirts of their Infantry,” instead of “riding straight at the opposing
Cavalry whenever the opportunity offered.”

Wrangel adds that men on “fast-galloping horses,” and on “not too
unfavourable ground,” will be able to enjoy the “irresistible pleasure
of charging home with the sword” against dismounted Cavalry. Elsewhere
he speaks, in a passage I have quoted before, of the necessity of
“eternally galloping.” Our minds go back to the vast destruction of
British horseflesh in South Africa, to the wild chimera of the
“eternally galloping” horse in any war, to the hard incessant work
imposed on scouts and patrols (who have somehow to combine scouting and
patrolling with battle duties), and lastly to the charges at the canter
made by the ill-fed, undersized Boer ponies. Again, I make no apology
for quoting these passages. Wrangel is another of the _enfants
terribles_, like Bernhardi. He betrays his own case, and the more
fatally because he does not seem to have studied our war at all; but his
case _au fond_ is the same as that of our own Cavalry school.

Among the achievements of the Independent Japanese Cavalry I have
mentioned the case of Naganuma’s raid, of Prince Kanin’s important
success at Pen-hse-hu, and of the energetic co-operation with the Second
and Third Armies at Mukden. In this latter case Wrangel credits them
with having pushed forward “in an extraordinarily quick and energetic
manner,” driving the Russian Cavalry before them. That the praise is
well deserved is shown by the “British Officers’ Reports” (vol. ii.).
The Russian Cavalry are estimated at 25,000, the Japanese at 3,240. The
latter, both in obtaining information and in action, did extraordinarily
well, especially with Nogi’s Third Army. The information is not wholly
complete. Exactly how near the Cavalry came to interception does not

Wrangel also gives high praise to the work of the First Cavalry Brigade
at the battle of Telissu on June 14–15, 1904. Sir Ian Hamilton (vol.
ii., p. 330, etc.) conveys the same impression in regard to the battle,
though he, like Kuropatkin, dwells principally on the feebleness of the
Russian Cavalry in not using plain opportunities for delaying
fire-action against Oku’s turning force. A preliminary combat of
advanced guards on May 30 had led to the only recorded case of an _arme
blanche_ charge in the war, when two squadrons of Cossacks charged one
Japanese squadron and, not having room to gather speed, used their
lances as quarter-staves. Would not revolvers have done better? The
squadron was defeated, but the “general results of the engagement were
indecisive.”[84] In the culminating battle of the 15th the Japanese
Brigade checked a critical counter-attack by Glasko’s Thirty-fifth
Infantry Division, freed the flank of the Third Japanese Division, and
took an energetic part in the pursuit of the Russians, driving back the
rear-guard by fire.


Footnote 84:

  Our Official Historians (Part ii., p. 32), referring to the same
  incident, speak of a charge in “open order” over fifty yards of
  ground, and of lances being used with “great effect.” The losses on
  both sides were evidently small.


All critics and historians mention the splendid behaviour of the Second
Japanese Cavalry Brigade and of other divisional detachments at the
battle of January 26 to 29, 1905, called by the Russians Shen-tan-pu,
and by our historians Hei-kou-tai (see “British Officers’ Reports,” vol.
ii., pp. 45–58). It was a vehement attack of four divisions against the
left of the Japanese entrenched line, held by the Second Army, forty
miles south of Mukden. The Japanese Cavalry brigade occupied a cluster
of villages near the junction of the Hun and Taitsu Rivers, and in the
course of a bitterly contested battle, lasting three days, had to take
their share, sometimes with Infantry support, in meeting attacks by
greatly superior forces. In this case the work they had to do was
precisely the work of Infantry, and our minds go back once more to the
directions of our “Cavalry Training”—that Cavalry may be called upon to
“occupy localities for defence,” but that their defences are on no
account to be otherwise than of the “simplest description,” so as not to
weaken the offensive instinct of an essentially offensive arm—in other
words, so as not to compromise the steel weapon. This is to organize
defeat. If the Japanese had thought so lightly of fire and the
concomitants of fire, they would never have had the offensive instinct
which they showed at Pen-hse-hu, Telissu, and Mukden.

Everywhere the same moral. In screening, raiding, and battle, fire is
master. No observer suggests on any definite occasion any definite
opportunity for the use of steel by the Cavalry engaged. Sir Ian
Hamilton, the senior of the large staff of British officers who watched
the Manchurian War, himself a successful leader in South Africa, has
given his opinion officially (“Reports,” vol. ii., p. 526) and in his
published diary. He does not miss or evade the point; he grapples with
it directly, and is constantly contrasting South African mounted men and
methods with Manchurian men and methods, and his conclusion is
unreservedly in favour of the rifle. His opinion began to be confirmed
at the first battle of the war, the Yalu, where neither Cavalry had any
effect on events. His Japanese friends, he tells us, were very much
surprised, and naturally, for they held German theories. But “the
warmest advocate of shock must allow, when he follows the course of
events on this occasion over the actual ground, that there was no place
or opportunity where the horse could possibly have been of any value
except to bring a rifleman rapidly up to the right spot” (vol. i., p.
137). Throughout the Manchurian campaign “the thought never” but once
“occurred to him to long for Cavalry to launch at the enemy during some
crisis of the struggle. Neither Infantry has the slightest idea of
permitting itself to be hustled by mounted men, and it has been apparent
... that the Cavalry could not influence the fighting one way or
another, except by getting off their horses and using their rifles.”

Nevertheless, two of the officers who were present do succeed in
concluding that the war proves the supreme value of the steel weapon;
and if my readers wish to gauge the tyranny of a blind faith over the
minds of accomplished practical men, whose Reports on any other point
are lucid and convincing, let him read, in close connection with Count
Wrangel’s two contradictory explanations of the absence of shock, the
remarks on the Japanese Cavalry by General Sir C. J. Burnett and Colonel
W. H. Birkbeck (vol. ii., pp. 542–545). It would be a comedy, if such
comedies did not have tragic consequences. Colonel Birkbeck seeks an
interview with General Akiyama. That vigorous employer of aggressive
fire-action states that his Cavalry learnt to draw their “greatest
confidence” from the firearm. Wincing, however, under a reminder from
Colonel Birkbeck of the religious “cult of the sword” in Japan, he
pleads defensive necessities against the enormous numerical strength of
the Russians, who, however, were "incapable of forcing an issue at close
quarters"! If they had been Cavalry" truly trained as such," besides
being enormously superior, then—but the General is too clever to court
the _reductio ad absurdum_—then “the case would have been different.”
General Burnett’s comment I quoted on page 347, and to complete the
comedy, Colonel Birkbeck, in a separate report (No. 10), has
conjecturally attributed the inaction of the 25,000 Russian Cavalry at
the battle of Mukden to their lack of training for shock! In his
interview with the more tactful Colonel McClernand, of the United States
army, Akiyama speaks the plain, unvarnished truth.

Let the reader now take a bird’s-eye view of the historical chain of
authoritative comment on the performances of Cavalry.

Here is Von Moltke reporting to the King of Prussia, after the
Austro-Prussian War of 1866:

  “Our Cavalry failed, perhaps not so much in actual capacity as in
  self-confidence. All its initiative had been destroyed at manœuvres
  ... and it therefore shirked bold, independent action, and kept far in
  the rear, and as much as possible out of sight,” etc.

General French, in his Introduction to Bernhardi (p. xxvii), actually
quotes this view as a warning to our Cavalry of the present day against
“ultra-caution” with the _steel_ in the presence of Infantry fire;
quotes it, I repeat, in the beginning of a volume whose central thesis
is the futility of the steel in opposition to fire.

It may be added that an “Austrian officer of high rank,” who is quoted
in the French translation of the Austrian Official History of that same
war of 1866, attributed what he calls the “success” of the Prussian
Cavalry to their reliance on the support of Infantry—that is, on _fire_.
His compatriot Wrangel, forty years later, says the same of the Japanese

Bernhardi reminds his countrymen that in the war of 1870 their own
Cavalry, and in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 the Russian Cavalry,
only obtained the poor success they did obtain because “not even
approximately equal Cavalry” opposed them, criticizes their performances
severely, and passionately advocates perfection in the use of the rifle.

We come to the South African War, where the firearm inspires the best
achievements of Cavalry and the steel weapon is discarded, and where we
find even the most convinced upholders of the _arme blanche_ forced to
construct an elaborate and often self-contradictory scheme of
explanation for the failure of the British Cavalry—_qua_ Cavalry—in that

The Japanese Cavalry only approaches other arms in so far as it uses
fire well. And we end with Kuropatkin, who has condemned the Russian
Cavalry in the war of 1877, and who, in the war of 1904–5, almost in the
identical words used by Von Moltke, deplores the lack of confidence and
dash in the Cavalry, and regards them as having _failed_.

Unanimity. Censure and excuses always. Of what other class of soldiers
is this invariable complaint made? And what is the common element in all
these censured Cavalries? Inefficiency in fire-action. Of the wars prior
to the invention of the deadly modern rifle, which is the war where
Cavalry are least censured and most praised? The American Civil War,
earlier than any of those I have named, where the Cavalries learnt
reliance on the firearm, though their example passed unnoticed in
Europe. After that invention, what type do we find winning its way to
success in South Africa? The mounted rifleman. Which weapon succeeds in
Manchuria? The firearm.

I have carried the reader of this volume through a very Wonderland of
paradox. Let him collect the threads of one more paradox in our own
domestic history.

In 1899, deaf to history and its most brilliant English exponent,
Colonel Henderson, our Cavalry went to war equipped and trained like the
present French Cavalry.

They and the nation suffered accordingly. After the war, Lord Roberts
embodied in a preface to the “Cavalry Training” Manual of 1904 the ripe
experience, not only of the South African War, but of a long life spent
in military service. He inculcated reliance on the rifle as the
principal weapon for all purposes of the Cavalry soldier. Two years
later, although Manchuria had confirmed his words in every particular,
the injunction was forgotten, and our Cavalry were sitting at the feet
of a German writer who had nothing to tell them about the rifle which
they had not already learnt by costly war experience, and who was
addressing, not them, but a Cavalry ignorant of the ABC of modern
fire-tactics. But, as a matter of theory, not of experience, he clung to
shock, expounding it in terms irreconcilable with fire. Our Manual of
1904 was superseded by the Manual of 1907, with the directions of Lord
Roberts expunged and Bernhardi’s self-contradictory counsels embodied.
In the August number of the _Revue des deux Mondes_ of 1908 many people
were astonished to find set forth in full by General de Negrier, as a
model to the “dreaming” French Cavalry, Lord Roberts’s preface to our
Manual of 1904. That Manual is cancelled. So that to find in its living,
authoritative form the verdict of our greatest living soldier, derived
from facts, not from theory, on a technical and tactical question of
vital importance, the student has to search the files of a French

                               CHAPTER XV


       “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

I venture to address my first recommendation to professional soldiers,
volunteer soldiers, and civilians alike. Study your own great war. Shut
your ears to those who say it is abnormal. Study it with an open mind,
forming your own opinion, and remembering that this is _your_

With the facts and conditions of your own modern war thoroughly in your
head, re-study other wars, including the last great war in Manchuria.
Note the progress made during the last fifty years in the precision,
range, and smokelessness of the firearm, compared with the unimprovable
nature of the steel weapon. Ask yourself if the professional Cavalries
in these various wars were alive to the lesson of this revolution, and
whether their successors, judged by their own writings, are alive now to
the lesson. And do not, I beseech, when you hear it said (with truth)
that the “principles of war” never change, be misled into imagining that
the steel weapon for horsemen is one of the “principles of war.”

Picture past wars, such as the Franco-German War, by the light of the
knowledge actually then in existence, but unused, as to the
possibilities of the rifle in the hands of mounted men. Reckon the
opportunities lost, and ask yourself if the successes gained by the
steel might not have been gained equally well even in those days by
first-class mounted riflemen.

Remember all the while in constructing out of precedents this “case law”
that there is a “common law” behind, a physical principle, which is
independent in the last resort of all psychological and historical
associations. Follow it out, as I have often suggested in terms of
vulnerability and mobility, constantly using the foot-riflemen as an
analogy. But realize that the bayonet, which is used as the climax of a
fire-fight on foot, is not the analogue of the sword or lance, which are
used from horse-back only, on a system impossible to associate with
fire. Superimpose the moral and psychological factors—in one word, the
_spirit_—bearing in mind that the best weapon will promote the best
spirit, and inspire the most fear in the enemy. Lastly, take training,
and reflect whether it be possible for a hybrid type to attain
perfection in two highly exacting and, under modern conditions,
profoundly antagonistic methods of fighting. Weigh the terrible cost of
not reaching perfection, the humiliation of being impotent even against
inferior Infantry, and doubly impotent against superior mounted

In studying the functions of mounted troops with the aid of the Official
“Training Books,” constantly distinguish weapons from mobility, the
combat phase from the pre-combat phase. Do not be enticed into assuming
that men armed with steel weapons can ride, drill, scout or manœuvre
better, by virtue of those weapons. On the contrary, observe how steel
weapons, not only by their mere weight in metal and leather, but by
their manifold corollaries, react harmfully on mobility and
intelligence, and in the case of the lance on visibility as well.
Remember that in war every ounce and every inch tells, and that there is
no other weapon on which to save weight. Nobody as yet suggests dropping
the rifle. That is admittedly indispensable.


The grand distinction between the foot-soldier and the horse-soldier is
the horse. The link which unites them is the rifle. We need some
classification which emphasizes both the distinction and the link. All
our terms, as at present used, are misleading. Those ancient and simple
names, Cavalry and Infantry, are really all we want, but their
significance is blurred by the modern intrusion of Mounted Infantry and
its unofficial synonym, Mounted Riflemen, and Yeomanry.

“Mounted Infantry” is a very bad name, because, though accurate in a
sense, it suppresses the common element, the rifle, and emphasizes the
horse, which is the distinguishing element, by a sort of contradiction
in terms, as though one were to say, horse-foot-soldiers. And in the
very act of emphasizing the horse it belittles both that noble animal
and its rider. It seems to say, “mount by all means, but above all
dismount”; “continually get off your horse”—"ignore the horse," to adapt
expressions now familiar to the reader.

“Mounted Riflemen,” though far better than “Mounted Infantry,” is also
unsatisfactory (1) because it suggests a non-existent distinction
between foot riflemen and Infantry, (2) because it suggests a
non-existent class of mounted troops who are not riflemen.

Of course, the source of all this confusion is the retention of the
steel weapon for our existing regular Cavalry, and the hybrid type which

I myself should strongly advocate the total abolition of all the modern
jargon, and a return to the primitive simplicity of Cavalry and
Infantry. Those names will live; nothing can extirpate them, and if they
stood alone their very isolation would force into prominence the really
fundamental points of similarity and dissimilarity in the troops they
represent. Of course, there will always be different qualities of
Cavalry, as of Infantry, corresponding to length and continuity of
training, and the most difficult and exacting functions will naturally
be allotted to the best-trained troops. But do not let us make the sword
or lance the criterion of excellence. Let us select any other criterion
but that, paying at least so much of a compliment to modern war
experience. Do not let us tell the relievers of Mafeking or De Wet that
they cannot engage in a strategical raid; the Australians that they
cannot pursue; De la Rey, the New Zealanders, and the riflemen of the
Rand that they cannot charge. Do not let us impress upon our Mounted
Infantry, with their South African traditions, that because they have no
sword or lance, they cannot play the big, fast game they played in South
Africa. By all means, if it is convenient, give them the limited
functions of divisional Cavalry, but do not put it on the ground of
defective armament. Give them a chance to realize their own worth, and
do not commit the crowning folly—crime it might well be called—of
singling them out from all the army for what is in effect a lecture on
the “terror of cold steel.”

                       III.—ARMAMENT OF CAVALRY.

I now come to the central object of my volume. My own belief is that
reform here must be radical. If it were possible, as the United States
Cavalry find it possible, to place the sword in a thoroughly subordinate
position, and keep it there, accepting whole-heartedly all the logical
consequences of its subordination, there would be little objection to
its retention. Nobody can deny that it can be useful on very rare
occasions, though I hope to have proved that the rifle, in expert hands,
can do better, even on those rare occasions.

But experience proves that in this country it is utterly impossible to
keep the sword or lance subordinate. Their fascination seems to be
irresistible. They laugh at facts and feed men on seductive fictions. We
know what the course of reaction has been. For a brief space after the
South African War it was in fact made officially subordinate. Then the
sword regained its old domination. Now the lance, from the cold shades
of “ceremony,” has become a combative weapon, also dominant, and in the
case of Lancer regiments, sharing its supremacy with the sword, so that
we have now what I venture to call the preposterous spectacle of
horsemen armed with no less than three weapons, one of which, when at
rest, adds several feet vertically to visibility. Of the respective
value of the lance and sword in combat, where combat takes place, I say
nothing, but on every other ground the lance is utterly indefensible. At
the combined army manœuvres of 1909, for example, Lancers were
operating in hedge-bound country, like that which covers so large a part
of England, and where lances constantly make just the difference between
concealment and exposure. They are incompatible with effective

But that after all is a secondary matter. What makes compromise
impossible is the fact that the steel weapon carries with it logically
the whole theory of shock. Add the firearm and you are faced with
dilemmas from which there is no escape. You cannot even take the
elementary step of attaching it to the man, instead of to the saddle,
without prejudice to the idea of shock. You cannot, as “Cavalry
Training” tacitly admits, carry sufficient ammunition. Drop shock, and
logic would tear aside the veil, and leave the steel weapon discredited.
It could not live on “extended formations,” eight-yard intervals and
thin makeshifts of that sort. There plainly it would be trenching on the
legitimate sphere of the rifle, and throwing its own inferiority into
prominence. The steel involves shock, and shock involves a whole
structure of drill, training and equipment, which are not only
antithetical to fire-action, but prejudicial to general mobility.
Splendid troops, with keen commanders and careful training, like our
regular Cavalry, manage to attain a fairly high standard in both
fire-action and shock-action; no one can doubt that who witnessed the
manœuvres of 1909. But reconnaissance was admittedly imperfect, and
the conditions were peace conditions. Time spent in training for the
steel is time robbed from other training. None know better than General
French and other Cavalry officers with war experience how tremendously
exacting is the standard of excellence required of the mounted rifleman,
and how vital the importance of saving weight. War teaches us that only
by exclusive and unremitting attention to the use of the horse and rifle
in combination is it possible to make good mounted riflemen.

They can never know enough, never practise enough. And, when the last
word is said, there remain those “out-of-door habits and sporting
instincts” which are so difficult to imitate artificially, and for whose
absence it is so difficult to compensate by drill and discipline.

But surely no better material exists in any European country than in
this for the production of good mounted riflemen. We have the men, and
we have the experience. We are leagues ahead of Germany, where steps are
only now being taken to provide the Cavalry with a carbine equal in
power to the Infantry rifle; leagues ahead of Austria and France;
leagues ahead of Russia, unless since 1905 she has revolutionized her
training. And yet we are blind to our good fortune; not only blind but
enviously imitative of the errors of foreigners, who in turn are
ignorant of our elements of strength. Colonel Repington, our ablest
military publicist, and one of the best friends the Cavalry or the army
at large ever had, warns the Cavalry that their shock-action needs
improvement, by comparison with Continental standards, while Bernhardi
and de Negrier passionately exhort their countrymen, to wake up to the
efficacy of the rifle. But Bernhardi cannot bring himself to give up the
steel, so, as the most reputable exponent of compromise we can find, we
copy into our drill-book those of his maxims on fire which can safely be
quoted without fatally injuring the case for the steel. It is enough to
make angels weep! Observe once more that we are courting failure in
neglecting our own aptitudes. Our Cavalry school believes in the
inevitable shock duel, and prophesies “negative” results for fire in the
encounters of rival Cavalries. Continental schools believe the same, so
that both Cavalries in a European war, oblivious, as of old, of their
real battle duties, will seek the shock duel if level ground can be
found for it. If our single division is beaten in a brute contest of
weight we shall be reaping the fruits of compromise. But the more likely
contingency is that the same old cruel and pointless censure will be
meted out to both Cavalries, for “mutual paralysis” and “idleness” on
the battle-field.

All this proves, I submit, that compromise is impossible. Sword and
lance should be abolished, and the training book rewritten in the light
of that abolition. With nothing but the rifle to depend on, a new, pure,
equality magnificent, and far more fruitful spirit would at once
permeate the whole force. There can be no such thing as a hybrid spirit,
and the Cavalry know it; hence the re-enthronement of the steel spirit.
But inculcate unreservedly the true aggressive fire-spirit, or rather
the horse-and fire spirit, and you will get it in a form which would
astonish the old European Cavalries.

From “Cavalry Training,” even as it now stands, extract and marshal
lucidly all the functions which Cavalry are now supposed to perform with
the rifle, whether in offence or defence.[85] Realize the tremendous
responsibilities involved, and remember that in any even of these
functions to pit half-trained riflemen against first-class riflemen,
whether Infantry or mounted, is to court failure, and possibly
humiliating and disastrous failure—for the sake of what? Of obtaining
not even perfection, but mediocrity in a class of tactics whose value
rests on no proofs from any war since the invention of the smokeless
modern rifle.


Footnote 85:

  See p. 318.


Dismiss these distracting and meaningless distinctions between the
“Cavalry fight” and other fights, between “mounted action” and
“dismounted action,” which are now treated as though they had no
connection with one another, and as though in the swift and various
vicissitudes of war it were possible to sort troops into classes or to
foresee from moment to moment which tactics to employ. Realize that
under present arrangements there is, and can be, no provision whatever
for that rapid transition from one to the other which battle conditions
demand if Cavalry are to play the fast, confident game they should play.
A man with a horse is a man with a horse. Make him feel it at all times.
Do not tell him that a wound inflicted from the saddle counts in some
mysterious way more than one inflicted on foot. Explain that mounted
action and dismounted action may alternate with lightning rapidity, and
merge in one another in a thousand ways. In teaching the charge with the
rifle do not make the subaltern refer to two distinct chapters, one
dealing with the ride into decisive range, another with his action when
he dismounts—perhaps only a few yards from the objective—for the
fire-climax. And for very shame avoid such puerilities as the direction
that before embarking on dismounted action additional ammunition is to
be served out.

Make the mere mention of “Cavalry ground” an offence punishable by fine.
Tell Cavalry that all ground which a horse can approach at all is ground
for them, and all equally honourable and fruitful ground. Tell them to
welcome inequalities as the indispensable condition of surprise, not to
hanker after open plains, where surprise is impossible. Get rid, too, of
the equally demoralizing notion that in order to fulfil their supreme
function in action their horses must perpetually be in a condition to
gallop fast.

Saddle-fire for mounted troops is optional, according to capacity. But
it should certainly be adopted by professional Cavalry, and practised
regularly. I need not discuss the difficulty of learning saddle-fire.
The mere fact that it is officially enjoined for picked Mounted Infantry
in a three months’ training proves its feasibility, to say nothing of
its combat-value. Obviously it cannot be regarded as an absolutely
essential concomitant of mounted action. A vast amount was accomplished
without it in South Africa, and our own men, even in their best work,
never used it. Nor was it used by either side in Manchuria, because
neither side came near the South African standard of mounted
rifle-tactics. But that it may be, if used at the right moment,
skilfully, and for certain definite ends, of very great value, we know
both from our own experience and from American history. It has genuine
moral effect, and may have material effects of an importance out of all
proportion to the actual loss of life inflicted, whether in horse or
men. A few random bullets may stampede a crowd of led horses, or throw
into disorder a regiment massed for shock. In the pursuit of mounted men
by mounted men, in the running mêlée, so to speak, experience shows that
skilled shots and riders can bring down men with aimed fire. A revolver
might be better for this purpose, but the multiplication of weapons is
on all accounts to be avoided. The rider must feel in every moment of
his field-life that he and his rifle are one for all purposes.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the rifle should be slung, as
even the Russians and Japanese slung it, and, as Bernhardi recommends,
on the back.

But for the _arme blanche_ there would be plenty of time to learn not
only saddle-fire, but much beside in the inexhaustible lore of the
mounted rifleman. For example, a good _first-hand_ knowledge of
entrenchment is absolutely essential, as anyone can see who looks in
“Cavalry Training” for the fire-functions allotted to Cavalry; and at
least one sharp lesson in South Africa drives home the same moral. To
allocate a small detachment of Royal Engineers is to trifle with the
subject. Entrenching tools, in the use of which the troopers themselves
have been practised, should accompany every regiment or brigade.
Remember the Cavalry at Hei-kou-tai and Pen-hse-hu. If you give men
firearms at all, you must teach them thoroughly the defensive as well as
the offensive use of firearms, for the two things are one. Men who
cannot defend cannot attack.

A truce, then, to the rhetoric about Cavalry being essentially an arm of
offence. _Ça va sans dire._ Every combatant arm is an arm of offence.
Infantry would regard such an exhortation as a poor compliment. Of
course we know and make full allowance for the reason of the
exhortation—namely, that the _arme blanche_ is by its very nature only a
weapon of offence, and that in Cavalry theory the _arme blanche_ is the
supreme source of dash. Get rid of this theory, and you get rid of all
excuse for the exhortation.

The _arme blanche_ gone, the path of progress in every department opens
out broad and clear. We want light, lithe, wiry men, and horses to
match—horses at any rate in which nothing of any moment is sacrificed to
size, and of which hardihood is the predominant characteristic. Small
horses were far the hardiest in South Africa and Manchuria. High speed
is altogether secondary; looks are nothing.

The vexed question of the weight of general equipment (apart from the
extra weight of steel weapons) I regard as outside the scope of this
volume. The margin gained by abolishing steel weapons should be used for
extra ammunition. In South Africa our men carried 130 rounds, the
Japanese in Manchuria 150 rounds.

Should the troopers carry a bayonet? That is an interesting question,
because it forces us to contrast the relative powers and duties of the
foot-rifleman and the horse-rifleman. It is an open question, not vital,
because the weight of a bayonet is small, and it does not impose a
separate system of tactics. It may be said on the one hand that mobility
and surprise are the grand advantages possessed by mounted riflemen over
foot-riflemen, and should compensate for the bayonet, which, in point of
fact, scarcely justified itself in South Africa. The Boers lost little
by the lack of it, even in storming entrenchments at night, while their
charges in the open were based directly on the idea, first of a swift
stunning ride in, then on destructive magazine fire. That is the true
idea, and we should not forget it. The bayonet suggests the slow, if
less vulnerable, approach of men on foot. Even in the case of Infantry,
critics of both the great modern wars associate over-close formations
and unskilful skirmishing with an exaggerated idea of the importance of
the cold steel. I except Port Arthur conditions, where horsemen were not

On the other hand, all British riflemen find confidence in the bayonet,
and, as Lord Roberts truly says, it may be exceedingly useful in a
dismounted night attack. War since 1865 proves that Cavalry must have
the power to press home an assault against entrenched Infantry. As
Mishchenko discovered, they cannot make the simplest raid without it. In
strict logic, therefore, the trooper needs the bayonet if the
Infantryman needs it. Only let us be sure that the utility of the
bayonet is fully great enough to warrant the possible risk of making the
trooper forget that normally his horse gives him a great tactical
advantage over Infantry, and a range of opportunities unknown to them.
Whatever we decide, let us not act in mimicry of “potential foes.” If
the new German carbine has a bayonet, as I believe it has, let us not
make the bayonet a fourth weapon in imitation, but a second weapon to
fortify the rifle.

On manœuvre not strictly connected with any special weapon I only
wish to repeat the clear lesson of South Africa and the wise counsel of
Bernhardi, that the less Cavalry, when in free and independent movement,
are taught to rely on the support of Horse Artillery the better.

I need scarcely say that we should erase the last vestiges of the idea
that Cavalry should count on the support of mounted riflemen. If we
abolish the _arme blanche_ that distorted and unwholesome idea dies a
natural death.

The conditions of service constitute a most important point. For
officers the force should be as cheap as any other part of the army, the
career _ouverte à tous les talents_. Every stimulus should be given for
the accession of the best men, both mentally and physically, and
selection should be rigid. Cavalry is a very important arm, demands the
most varied powers, and should command the highest talent. It is a
relatively small force, it has highly specialized functions, and of all
arms it is the least easy to replace in the thick of a war. It must be a
comparatively expensive force to maintain, but the expense should fall
on the State which it serves. That perhaps is a counsel of perfection
for the State in its relation to officers of all arms, but if it softens
anywhere, it should soften in the case of the Cavalry.

And the source of the present excessive standard of expense? Analyze the
whole matter carefully, and you will find at the back of it that enemy
to progress, the _arme blanche_. Abolish that, and, with a little
friendly help from the State, the evil will cure itself.

                         IV.—MOUNTED INFANTRY.

We touch here special questions of finance and administration which
complicate the issue. But a clear mind on the question of armament and
tactics will help immensely to simplify the problem. Let us begin by
calling them for all purposes “Cavalry.” That ought to be a simple and
unobjectionable change, because in combined operations they are, in
fact, called Cavalry, and are allotted the duties of divisional Cavalry.
The name changed, what follows? Logically, no doubt, that they should be
merged in the Cavalry. Apart from the steel weapon, their
characteristics are the same. Apart from the shock-charge, and assuming
equal length of training, their functions and powers should be precisely
the same. They are mounted riflemen, as the Cavalry should be. On the
other hand, there is an advantage, no doubt, from the point of view of
expense and simplicity, in the plan of abstraction from Infantry
battalions for short periods of mounted service; but I suggest that the
advantage is small by comparison with the evils of the system. (1) In
war, when fresh contingents have to be raised (as they surely will have
to be raised), the abstraction, as we know to our cost, weakens the
efficacy of the Infantry battalions. (2) Though the soldier’s prior
training (presumed to be thorough) as an Infantryman is of immense help
to him in learning the work of a mounted rifleman, it is wholly
impossible for him, in the short time available, to obtain all the
trained aptitudes and instincts of a first-class mounted rifleman.

Is it not common sense that, if we go to the expense of providing
professional soldiers with horses at all, we should go a little farther,
and make them thorough professional horsemen, during their whole
training? Should we not rather add to the Cavalry than abstract from the
Infantry? I am sure it would pay us well.

But whether or no this step is taken, and whether or no the _arme
blanche_ is abolished, let us at all events revise their instruction in
the light of war-experience, abandoning all this excessive stress on
their character as Infantry, laying all the stress we will on their
character as riflemen, and equal stress on their character as horsemen.
Of course, as long as they remain, so to speak, improvised horsemen,
their responsibilities must be appropriate to their efficiency, but they
should not be taught to feel that they lose something by the lack of a
steel weapon. By all means let them act as a “pivot of manœuvre” for
regular Cavalry, where the two arms are acting together, if, as mounted
riflemen, they are less efficient than Cavalry. But away with this
absurd notion that their support on such occasions is intended to leave
Cavalry leisure and opportunity for indulging in shock. Away, above all,
with the demoralizing insinuation that if caught “in the open,” whatever
that vague and elusive phrase may mean, they are, owing to the
possession of horses, actually more vulnerable to attack by the steel
than Infantry; that to meet this contingency, they must form square, an
operation long obsolete in the case of the Infantry, except for savage
warfare. This is just the way to make them lose all confidence not only
in the very weapon which Infantry are taught to rely on so implicitly
against the steel, but in the horse itself. I wonder if the existing
Mounted Infantry believe in the suggestion after their previous training
as Infantry. If any one of them, does, I can only say to him: “Read once
more and learn by heart page 92 of ‘Infantry Training’ (‘Meeting an
Attack by Cavalry’). Remember you now have a horse; exercise your common
sense, and you will conclude that unless you are ‘surprised’ in a sense
which would be a disgrace to soldiers of any class or type, mounted or
dismounted, you have an immense advantage over Cavalry acting ‘as


Here are volunteer mounted riflemen; a keen, vigorous force, composed of
some of the best elements in the nation, but without prior training as
Infantry, obtaining a very small amount of field exercise, with horses
specially provided for such occasions. They belong to the same type as
Mounted Infantry; but, through no fault of their own, are less
efficient. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, they are called “Cavalry,”
and receive, in an appendix to “Cavalry Training,” three special pages,
which begin with the direction that “Yeomanry should be so trained as to
be capable of performing all the duties allotted to Cavalry, except
those connected with shock action.” Let us follow out the effect which
these words are calculated to have upon the mind of an average member of
the Yeomanry. At the first blush the sentence wears an air of
simplicity. Having no lance or sword, the Yeoman clearly cannot practice
shock. But what are the “duties connected with shock action” which he
must not perform? If he were to begin by studying Bernhardi, he might
very well come to the satisfactory conclusion that the only opportunity
for shock was in the collision of huge Cavalry masses. But he need not
read Bernhardi, because Bernhardi, he is informed, inspires “Cavalry
Training.” In “Cavalry Training” he searches in vain for an exhaustive
list of these duties. He finds emphasis on the big shock duel, with its
“positive” result, but no qualification in respect of smaller duels. He
hears about the “Cavalry fight,” which is clearly a shock fight, and
also about Cavalry in “extended order,” charging Infantry, and wonders
if this, too, is shock, and presumes on the whole that it is. Eventually
he comes to the conclusion, and the very reasonable conclusion, that he
is lost without a steel weapon, irretrievably lost if he meets Cavalry,
and at the best, perhaps, weak in aggression against Infantry. If he
refers to “Mounted Infantry Training,” it is only to find that even this
arm, with its professional character and longer continuous training, is
taught to fear the steel weapon. Reverting, therefore, to his original
proposition, that the sword is absolutely essential, he appeals to be
equipped with the sword.

But what, meanwhile, of that terrifically deadly weapon, the rifle? With
his eighteen days’ field training, is he yet fit to meet on terms of
fire professional mounted riflemen, to say nothing of swordsmen and
Lancers? Is he, with his limited practice and his double function of
horseman and rifleman, fit to oppose even volunteer Infantry? He has
vague recollections of a war in which large numbers of volunteer troops
under his own appellation met small numbers of skilled mounted riflemen,
did remarkably well under the circumstances, but on the whole were
completely outmatched. But the uncomfortable memory is soon stifled.
That was an “abnormal” war. Cavalrymen say it was abnormal. He need not
study that war, and in point of fact I am afraid it is true that the
majority of our volunteer mounted officers do not study it. Why should
they, when German theorists and German battles are presented to them on
the highest authority as the best guides to education?

I am fully aware that many Yeomanry officers resent the demand for a
steel weapon, and take the line of common sense in the whole matter. But
the opinions I have represented must be reckoned with, for they will
grow, as the war fades farther into the past and the reaction to steel
in the Cavalry gathers strength. In the summer of 1909, there was a
correspondence in the _Times_ initiated by an anonymous “Squadron
Leader” of Yeomanry, who represented that to send swordless Yeomanry
into war was sheer murder; that in the face of Cavalry they were
“unarmed sheep”; that he cared nothing about the Boer War (of which,
indeed, he was evidently quite ignorant); that it was “peculiar”; that
our Cavalry and foreign Cavalries believed in the _arme blanche_, and
that for his part he pinned his faith on authorities like General von
Pelet Narbonne, the German author of “Cavalry in Action.”

Of all the many pernicious effects of the survival of the _arme
blanche_, this indirect encouragement to our volunteer horsemen to
belittle the good weapon and hanker for the bad weapon is one of the
worst. The responsibility rests absolutely on the _arme blanche_ school
of thought. There is no valid answer to the demand. They, least of all,
can combat it. Nor would there be any valid answer if the Mounted
Infantry raised the same demand. Every mounted man should have a sword,
or none. In war you cannot sort out troops so that one class need only
meet its own corresponding class. Germans, for example, have no
steel-less Cavalry. By hypothesis, therefore, our Yeomanry cannot take
the field at all against them. And how, on the same hypothesis, are our
Mounted Infantry, acting as “divisional Cavalry,” to meet German
divisional Cavalry?

Meanwhile, it is impossible to make any other recommendation to the
Yeomanry than this. Regard yourselves as belonging to the highest type
of mounted soldier—that is, to the mounted riflemen. Concentrate on the
rifle and the horse. The more you do that and the more the hybrid
professional horsemen waste their energies in compromise, or destroy
their efficacy in concentrating on the steel, the fitter you will be to
meet them in war.

                      VI.—IMPERIAL MOUNTED TROOPS.

It is for the Imperial General Staff to grapple with this question. We
are dealing here with men who will never really believe that a steel
weapon is the distinguishing mark of a superior Cavalry. How the steel
weapon at present is to be submitted to them in an intelligible and
natural way, I do not know. Without it the whole problem solves itself.
It will be possible then to arrange for their inclusion in an Imperial
army on some definite and reasoned basis, with functions defined
according to their capacity as mounted riflemen.


I hope I have written nothing in this volume which does not come within
the bounds of fair criticism. I have written strongly, because I feel
strongly on a point about which every Englishman, soldier or civilian,
has a right to feel strongly. We have wasted too much energy, brains and
splendid human material on the perverse pursuit of a phantom ideal. It
is painful, at this moment, to see a great current of keenness and
ability so misdirected and misapplied.

Let us trust our own experience, shake off this crippling superstition,
and start afresh on lines which we have _proved_ to be successful.
[Blank Page]


 Abraham’s Kraal (or Driefontein), action of, 149
 Acton Homes, 156
 Afghan War, Cavalry in, Introduction, vi (footnote), xi
 Alderson, Colonel E. A. H., 94, 180, 181, 196
 American Civil War, 9, 11–14, 52, 217, 290, 330, 352
 Artillery, with mounted troops, 147–9, 236–8, 364
   Bernhardi on, 307
 Austrian Cavalry (present day), 293, 315, 359
 “Austrian Official History of the War of 1866,” 351
 Austro-Prussian War (1866), 11, 111, 351, 352

 Baknlaagte, action of, 244–6, 256, 265
 Bank Kop, action of, 247, 248
 Barberton, 206, 207, 209, 282
 Barkley West, 199
 Bayonet, contrast of, with lance and sword, 24, 26, 166 for Cavalry,
    364, Introduction, xii
 Belfast, British capture of, 205
   Boer attack on, 214, 232
 Belmont, action of, 76
 Benson Colonel G. E., 235, 244–6
 Bergendal, battle of, 205–7
 Bernhardi, General von, author of “Cavalry in Future Wars” (translated
    by C. S. Goldman; Introduction by General Sir J. French), 9, 13, 14,
    17, 27, 28, 33, 44, 52, 128–9, 194, 266, 281, 283, 287, 352
   comparison of, with “Cavalry Training,” and other writers, Chapter
 Bethune’s Mounted Infantry, 72–3, 155, 199
 Beyers, General, 232
 Biddulphsberg, action of, 200
 Biggarsberg, 199 pursuit at, by mounted riflemen, 264
 Birkbeck, Colonel W. H. (reports on Russo-Japanese War), 350–1
 Block-house system, 225–6
 Bloemfontein, capture of, 149 halt at, 178–84
 Blood River Poort, action of, 244, 247
 Boschbult, action of, 249
 Boschman’s Kop, action of, 247–8, 258
 Botha, General Louis, on the line of the Tugela, 151–66
   on the retreat to Pretoria, 188–94
   negotiations for peace, 201
   from Pretoria to Komati Poort, 204–9
   in guerilla war, 214, 230, 231–2, 244–5
 Bothaville, action of, 212, 256, 264, 332
 Bouwer’s Hoek, action of, 230, 339
 Brabant’s Horse, 93, 150 Colonial Defence Force, 185, 187, 200
 Brandfort, action of, 191
 Brandwater Basin, Prinsloo’s surrender at, 173, 201
 Briggs, Colonel C. J., 217, 240
 British Officers’ Reports (Russo-Japanese War), 340, 346–51
 Broadwood, Brigadier-General R. G., 100, 139, 179–83
 Buffelspoort, destruction of convoy at, 214
 Buller, General Sir Redvers, at Colenso, 73–4, etc.
   from Colenso to the relief of Ladysmith, 151–67
   onwards to Komati Poort, 184–209
   use of Cavalry by, 162–3, 198–9, 283–4
 Burnett, General Sir C. J., report on Cavalry in Russo-Japanese War,
    347, 351
 Burn-Murdoch, Colonel, 160–2
 Byng, Colonel the Hon. J. H. G., 217

 Cæsar’s Camp, 154
 Canadian Mounted Rifles, 205
 Cape Mounted Police, 56, 150
 Cape Mounted Rifles, 56, 230
 Carrington, General Sir F., 187
 “Cavalry Training” (Official Manual) (1907), 1–3, 9, 26, 27, 35, 41,
    43, 59, 233, 252, 263, 341, 345, 349, 360
   comparison of, with Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars,” Chapter
   Official Manual (1898), 51
 “Cavalry in Future Wars,” by General von Bernhardi. See Bernhardi
 “Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War,” by Count Wrangel. See Wrangel
 Chaotao, Japanese Cavalry at, 340
 Chardeh Valley, action of, 1879, Introduction, xi
 Charges, British (South African War), with the _arme blanche_, at
    Talana, 62
   at Elandslaagte, Chapter IV., 261–2
   at Maeder’s farm, 88–9
   at Klip Drift, 99–112, 261
   at Diamond Hill, 197, 261
   at Welgevonden, 256, 261
   at Zand River, 283
 Charges of mounted riflemen:
   at Paardeberg, 120–2
   at Vaal River, 196
   at Witpoort, 205
   at Victoria Nek, 213
   at Wildfontein, 257
 Charges, Boer (South African War), 181–2, 212–13, and Chapter XI.
   summary of, and remarks on, Chapter XI. and Chapter XII.
 Charges, Boer (South African War), Bernhardi on, 254, 307
 Charges, Russo-Japanese War, 328, 348
 Clements, General R. A. P., 93, 150–1
 Colenso, battle of, 73–4
 Colesberg, French’s operations round, 85–91
   allusions to, 117, 167, 264, 331
   Clements at, 150–1
 Colvile, General Sir H., 187, 200
 Convoys, attacks on, directions of “Cavalry Training” about, 318–19
 Cookson, Colonel, 249
 Cossacks. See Russian Cavalry
 Crimean War, 11, 18, 111, 261,
   Introduction, vii
 Cronje, General Andries, 98
 Cronje, General Piet, at battle of Magersfontein, 81
   during relief of Kimberley, 91–112
   at and before Paardeberg, Chapter VII., Part I.
 Custozza, battle of, Introduction, viii

 Delagoa Bay Railway, attacks on, 214
 De la Rey, General, 81, 149, 200, 204–5, 214, 231–3, 248, 256, 357
 De Lisle, Colonel, 196
 Denison, Colonel, author of “History of Cavalry,” 11
 De Wet, General Christian, at Nicholson’s Nek, 72
   with Cronje, 89
   at Waterval, 102, 119, 123
   at Paardeberg, 123–5
   at Poplar Grove, 130–40, 149
   at Sannah’s Post, Reddersburg, Wepener, etc., 179–84
   raids on railway, June, 1900, 200–1
   first hunt of, 201–4
   second hunt of, 211–13
   third hunt of, 229–30
   in guerilla war, 211–13, 231, 240
   allusions to, 172, 331–2
 De Wet, General Piet, 179–83, 200
 Dewetsdorp, actions at, 183–4
   capture of, 211, 234
 Diamond Hill, battle of, 189, 193–4, 196–7, 261, 285
 District Mounted Troops (Cape Colony), 218–19
 Dixon, Brigadier-General H. G., 241
 Drives, 225–7
 Dronfield, action of, 113–16, 120, 128, 138, 148, 181, 246, 338
 Dundonald, General the Earl of, 156, 160–2, 199
 Du Toit, General, 113

 Elandslaagte, battle of, Chapter IV., 166, 261, 275
 Entrenching for Cavalry, 233, 349, 363

 Faber’s Put, action of, 199
 Fen-shui-ling Mountains, 341
 Ferreira, General, 101, 113, 117
 Forrest, General (American Civil War), 11, 255
 Franco-German War (1870), 11, 111, 352
   Colonel Henderson on, Introduction, vii–ix
 _Francs-tireurs_, 302, Introduction, vii
 Frederikstad, siege of, 211
 French, General Sir John, 8, 9, 10, 17, 19, 22, 169–70
   at Elandslaagte, Chapter IV.
   at Lombard’s Kop, 70–2
   at Colesberg operations, 86–90
   relief of Kimberley, 91–112
   interception of Cronje at Paardeberg, 116–18
   parallel with De Wet, 124–6
   at Poplar Grove, 130–46
   at Karee Siding, 178–9
   at Dewetsdorp, 183–4
   from Bloemfontein to Pretoria, 187–204
   from Pretoria to Komati Poort, 204–9
   at Zand River, 193, 279–82, 286
   at Doornkop (outside Johannesburg), 196
   at Middelburg, 205, 282
   at Bergendal, 206
   in march to Barberton, 209
   in Cavalry march, East Transvaal, October, 1900, 211–12, 216
   on the abnormal character of the South African War, 266–8
 French, General Sir John, on Cavalry work in the Russo-Japanese War,
    329–34, 339, 343, 345
   on von Moltke’s criticism of the Prussian Cavalry, 351
 French Cavalry (present day), 293, 359
 Fronemann, General, 98

 Gallwey, Colonel, 243
 Garratt, Colonel F. S., 257
 Gatsrand, 230
 Geduld, action of, 241
 German Cavalry (present day), 293, 359
 Glasko, General, 349
 Goedvooruitzicht, action of, 235
 Goldman, C. S., author of “With French in South Africa,” translator of
    Bernhardi’s “Cavalry in Future Wars,” founder of the _Cavalry
    Magazine_, etc., 9, 10, 17, 19, 64, 88, 109–10, 140, 142–4, 162,
    174, 222, 254, 266, 301, 308, 314, 325, 333, 337
   on the abnormal character of the Boer War, 270–87
 Gordon, Brigadier-General J. R. P., 100, 125, 139
 Graspan, action of, 76–81, 239
 Grenfell, Colonel, 249–52
 Grootvlei, action of, 231
 Guerilla war in South Africa, 45, Chapter X.

 Hamilton, General Bruce, 235
 Hamilton, General Sir Ian, in South African War, 187–8, 188 (footnote),
    190, 193, 197, 249
   as observer of Russo-Japanese War, 348–9
 Hart’s Hollow, fighting at, 164
 Hei-kou-tai, battle of, 349
 Heilbron, action near, 201
 Helvetia, capture of, 214, 232
 Henderson, the late Colonel G. F. R. (author of “Stonewall Jackson,”
    “Science of War,” etc), Introduction, vi–ix, and 13, 14, 353
 Hertzog, General, 211, 229
 Holland, action of, 247
 Horses (South African War), condition of, 95–6, 144–6, 189, 197–8,
 Household Cavalry, 197
 Houtnek, action of, 188
 Hsin-kai-ho, destruction of bridge at, 340
 Hunter, General Sir A., 187–8, 198–9, 201
 Hunts of Christian de Wet, (1) 201–3; (2) 211–13; (3) 229–30
 Hutton, General E. T. H., 196–7, 209

 Imperial Light Horse, 56, Chapter IV. (at Elandslaagte), 73, 152,
    185–8, 199, 240
 Imperial Mounted Troops (present day), 4–5, 370–1
 “Infantry Training” (Official Manual), 38, 197, 253, 323
 Inniskilling Dragoons, 256
 Itala, Fort, attack on, 232

 Japanese Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War, 323, 345–9, Chapter XIV.,
 Johannesburg, fighting outside, 191, 196
 Joubert, General, 61, 72–3, 151

 Kaapsche Hoop, 209
 Kalkfontein (Poplar Grove), 135–6, 140
 Kanin, Prince, 340, 348
 Karee Siding, action of, 178–9
 Kekewich, Colonel, R. G., 231, 249
 Kemp, General, 207–8, 240–3, 248, 249–52
 Kimberley, siege of, 74–5
   relief of, 91–112
   French’s operations north of, 113–16
   allusions to, 167, 275, 282, 295, 331
 Kitchener, General Lord, at Paardeberg, 120–2
   in guerilla war, 211, 214–29
 Kitchener’s Kopje (battle of Paardeberg), 123, 130
 Kleinfontein, action of, 248, 319
 Klip Drift, charge at, 98–112
   allusions to, 116, 117, 119, 128, 144, 146, 148, 194, 261, 274, 314
   Lord Roberts on, Introduction, x
 Klipfontein, pursuit at, 197
 Knox, General Charles, 212
 Koch, General, 61, 62
 Komati Poort, advance of British army to, from Pretoria, 204–9
 Komati River, action of, and Boer charge at, 212–13, 239
 Koedoesberg, 91
 Koodoos Drift, 116, 117
 Korn Spruit. See Sannah’s Post
 Kritzinger, General, 211, 229
 Kroonstad, 191, 193, 281
 Kruger, President, 138 (at Poplar Grove), 208 (at Komati Poort)
 Kuram, operations in, 1879; Introduction, vi (footnote)
 Kuroki, General, 341
 Kuropatkin, General, 336–7, 340, 348, 352

 Labuschagne’s Nek, action of, 151
 Ladysmith, battle of (or Lombard’s Kop), 48, 70–2, 152
   siege of, 72, 151–4
   relief of, 155–67
 Lake Chrissie, action of, 231
 Lambourne Downs, manœuvres at, 1909, 323
 Lancers, 9th, 230
   12th, 197
   16th, 213
 Langerwacht, action of, 231–2
 Liao-yang, battle of, 340–1
 Lichtenburg, attack on, 232
 Liebenberg, General, 200, 249
 Lindley, actions near, 197, 200
 Lombard’s Kop, battle of. See Ladysmith, battle of
 Lotter, Commandant, capture of, 230, 264, 339
 Lydenburg, 206–7
 Lubbe, Commandant, 98

 McClernand, Colonel, of the United States Cavalry, at Russo-Japanese
    War, 328, 346
 McCullagh, Francis (author of “With the Cossacks,”) 336, 338
 Machadadorp, 282
 Maeder’s farm, action of, 88–9
 Mafeking, 74, 198
   relief of, 199–200, 264, 357
 Magersfontein, battle of, 81–3
   Cronje at, February, 1900, 91–112
 Mahon, Brigadier-General B. T., 199–200
 Manchuria, war in (1904–5), 10, 12, 195–6, 227, 230, 242, 303, 321,
    323, 353
   history of Cavalry work in, Chapter XIV.
 Mars la Tour, battle of, 321
 Methuen, General Lord, 76–82, 91, 127, 131, 198, 203, 249
 Meyer, General, 61, 151
 Middleburg, capture of, 205, 282
 Middlepunt (Poplar Grove), 137–9, 143
 Milner, Lord, 228
 Mishchenko, General, raid of, 337–9, 342
 Modderfontein, capture of, 232
 Modder River, battle of, 76–7
 Moedwil, action of, 231
 Moltke, von, 45, 336–7, 351
 Mooifontein, action of, 243
 Morgan, Colonel (American Civil War), 11, 255
 Mounted Infantry, regular, 4, 5, 15, 17, 37–8, 53–4, 85–6, 94, 123,
    165, 169, 217–18, 254–5, 263–4, 293, 308, 356–7, 366–8, also
    Introduction, xvi
   Training (Official Manual, 1906), 38, 263–4, 324–5
   (1899), 273
 Mukden, battle of, 337, 340, 341, 348–9, 351

 Naganuma, Colonel, raid by, 340, 348
 Natal Carbineers, 61, 152, 155 (footnote)
 Natal Mounted Police, 56, 155 (footnote)
 Negrier, General de, 300, 316, 325, 344, 353
 New South Wales, mounted riflemen from, 56
 New South Wales Lancers, 76
 New Zealand, mounted riflemen from, 56
   Mounted Rifles, 196
 Nicholson’s Nek, fight at, 71–2, 153, 207, 234
 Night attacks, South African War,
   British, 81, 83, 87, 230–1
   Boer, 230–3
   Russo-Japanese War, 338, 340
 Night raids, British, 235–6
 Niu-chuang, 338
 Nodzu, General, 341
 Nogi, General, 341, 348
 Nomenclature of mounted troops, 16–17, 88, 356–7
 Nooitgedacht, action of, 214, 215, 231, 234

 “Official History of the Russo-Japanese War” (British General Staff),
    335, 348
 “Official History of the South African War” (German General Staff),
    107–9, 125–30, 158, 166, 295–7
 “Official History of the South African War,” (British), 14, 60, 65, 71,
    110, 118–19, 125, 141–2, 158–9, 174, 181, and references _passim_
 Oku, General, 348

 Paardeberg, battle of, 120–30
   surrender at, 130–1
   allusions to, 167, 201, 264, 285, 331
 Pen-hse-hu, action of, 341, 348–9
 Pepworth Hill, attack on, 154
 Petrusberg, 132
 Pieter’s Hill, battle of, 157–9, 162, 165
 Pietersburg, 208
 Pilcher, Colonel, 91
 Plumer, Colonel, 74, 186, 200, 283
 Pohlmann, Commandant, 207
 Poplar Grove, action of, 131–149
   allusions to, 161, 181, 253, 275, 338
 Porter, Colonel T. C., 139
 Potgieter, Commandant, 250
 Pretoria, advance to, 184–204
   capture of, 190–2
 Prinsloo, General M., 173, 201
 Prospect, Fort, attack on, 233
 Protectorate Regiment, 56
 Pursuit, Bernhardi on, 302, 304–6
 Pursuits (South African War),
   British, at Elandslaagte, 61–9
   interception of Cronje, 113–20
   Poplar Grove, 134–149
   after Pieter’s Hill, 153–163
   Klipfontein, 197
 Pursuits, Boer, at Stormberg, 83
   Sannah’s Post, 179–183, and Chapter XI.

 Quaggafontein, action of, 231
 Queensland, mounted riflemen from, 56

 Raids (South African War), British, 91, 91–112 (relief of Kimberley),
    199–200 (relief of Mafeking), 195, 262, 279, 282. See also Night
 Raids, Boer: De Wet’s on railway, June, 1900, 201, 230
   on Cape Colony: (1) November to December, 1900, 212, 229; (2) January
      to March, 1901, 229–30
   by Hertzog and Kritzinger, 229–30
   by Smuts, 229–30
   by Botha on Natal, 230, 244
 Raids (Manchurian War), Russian, Mishchenko’s, 337–9
   Japanese, by Naganuma and Hasegawa, 340
 Raids, Bernhardi on, 282, 338, 340. See also American Civil War,
    Stuart, Wilson
 Ramdam, 98
 Rawlinson, Colonel Sir H., 235
 Reconnaissance, 59, 73, 77, 91, 203, 227, 262, 322–3
 Reddersburg, action of, 183
 Reitz, action near, 240
 Reitzburg, 201
 Rennenkampf, General, 340
 Rensburg, 87, 151
 Repington, Colonel A’Court, Military Correspondent of the _Times_,
    292–4, 314–15, 325, 359
 _Revue des deux Mondes_, article by General de Negrier, 300
 Rhodesian Field Force, 186
 Rhodesia Regiment, 56, 74
 Ridley, Colonel C. P., 94
 Rietfontein (Natal), action of, 70
 Rimington, Brigadier-General M. F., 217, 256
 Rimington’s Guides, 76
 Roberts, Field-Marshal Earl, on the _arme blanche_ per Cavalry,
   arrival in South Africa, 85
   his command up to the capture of Bloemfontein, Chapters VI., VII.
   from Bloemfontein to Komati Poort, Chapter IX., 224
   Preface to “Cavalry Training,” (1904), 352, Introduction, v, xi
 Roodekraal, action of, 257, 264
 Roodewal, action of, 249–253, 265, 305
 Rundle, General Sir Leslie, 184, 187, 200
 Russian Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War, 334–7, Chapter XIV.
 Russo-Japanese War. See Manchuria, War in
 Russo-Turkish War (1877), Introduction, vii, 11, 352

 Saddle-fire, 32, 182, 213, 243, 247, 251–2, 255, 362
 Samsonoff, General, 340
 Sannah’s Post, action of, 179–183
   allusions to, 194, 239, 256, 259, 264, 331
 Schoemann, General, 88
 Scobell, Colonel, 149, 217, 230, 339
 Scottish Horse, 245–6, 250
 Screens, mounted, 86–90, 189–90, 262, 281
 Seven Kopjes. See Poplar Grove
 Sha Ho, battle of, 340
 Shea, Major, 231
 Shen-tan-pu, battle of. See Hei-kou-tai
 Sheridan, General (American Civil War), 11, 128, 341, Introduction, vii
 Shisnikoff, Colonel, 338–9
 Shock, physical conditions of, 25–9
   moral value of, 35–40
   training for, 40–2, 358
   absence of, in South Africa, 65, 145, 241, 246, 248, 260–1, 269, 277
   absence of, in Russo-Japanese War 327–8
   Bernhardi on, 301, 309–15, 320–4
   Wrangel on, 316, 342–7
 Smalldeel, 28
 Smith-Dorrien, General H. L., 212, 231
 Smuts, General J. C., 229–30, 231, 340
 South African Constabulary, 218, 250
 South African Light Horse, 73, 155
 South African War, account of mounted operations in, Chapters III.-XII.
   was the war “abnormal?”, 14, 15, 18–20, Chapter XII.
 Spaits, Captain (author of “Mit Kosaken durch die Mandschurei,”) 336–8
 Spion Kop, battle of, 155–6, 193, 234
 Springhaan’s Nek, action of, 213
 Stackelberg, General, 341
 Steyn, President, 172, 201, 204, 207–8
 Steyn, Commandant, 123–4
 Stormberg, night attack on, 83
 Stuart, General (American Civil War), 11, 13, 195, 340, Introduction,
 Sunny side, raid at, 91
 Symons, General Sir W. Penn, 61

 Tafel Kop, action of, 246
 Tai-tse-ho River, 327, 340
 Talana, battle of, 48, 62, 64, 69, 275
 Telissu, battle of, 337, 348–9
 Theron, Commandant, 203
 Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, 72–3, 155
 Tigerkloof Spruit, action of, 240
 Tigerpoort Hills, action at, 204–5
 _Times_, leading article in (September, 1909), 292–4
 _Times_ History of the South African War, 60, 100–1, 220–1, and
    references _passim_
 Town Guards (Cape Colony), 218
 Tschondschu (or Tiessu), action of, 344
 Tucker, General C., 149, 178–9
 Turning movements, South Africa, 191–5
   Bernhardi on, 307
 Tweebosch, action of, 248–9
 Tweefontein (Transvaal), action of, 199
   (Orange River Colony), action of, 231

 Umbulwana Mountain, 160
 United States Cavalry, 316

 Vaal River, crossing of, 191, 196
 Vendutie Drift, 117
 Ventersburg road, 280
 Vet River, action of, 191, 196
 Victoria, mounted riflemen from, 56
 Victoria Nek, combat at, 213, 256
 Viljoen, General Ben, 205, 207–8, 214, 232, 243
 Vlakfontein, action of, 241–3, 245, 256, 259, 319
 Von Donop, Colonel, 249
 Vryheid, attack on, 232

 Wagon Hill, battle of, 154, 165, 234
 Warren, General Sir C., 156, 187, 198
 Waterval, action of, 102, 123, 131, 264, 282
 Welgevonden, action of, 256, 261
 Wepener, siege of, 183
 White, General Sir George, 61, 70–2, 151–4
 Wildfontein, action of, 257, 264
 Wilmansrust, action of, 231, 256
 Wilson, General (American Civil War), 195
 Witpoort, action at, 205
 Woolls-Sampson, Colonel Sir A., 60, 235
 Wrangel, Count, of the Austrian Cavalry, author of “Cavalry in the
    Russo-Japanese War,” 10, 41, 145, 280, 300, 315–17, 325, 335, 340–8,

 Yen-tai Mines (battle of Liao-yang), 337, 340
 Yeomanry, the present, 4, 5, 15, 89, 324, 356–7, 368–9, also
    Introduction, xvi
 Yeomanry (South African War), first contingent of, 86, 184–8, 199, 200
   second contingent, 218–19
 Ying-kou, raid on, 337–8
 Yzer Spruit, action of, 233, 248–9, 319

 Zand River, action of, 188, 191, 193, 279–81, 283, 285–6, 307
 Zarps (Transvaal Police), 149, 207
 Zilikat’s Nek, action of, 205, 234



                                THE END



          ‘Scholarly, London.’      41 and 43 Maddox Street,
                                        Bond Street, London, W.
               Telephone:                         _January, 1910._
           No. 1883 Mayfair.

                          Mr. Edward Arnold’s

                        Spring List of New Books

                          January-March, 1910.

                         LIBERTY AND AUTHORITY.

                        By Lord HUGH CECIL, M.P.

                     _Crown 8vo., buckram._ 2s. 6d.

This pithy volume contains an address delivered by the author on the
occasion of his inauguration as President of the Associated Societies of
the University of Edinburgh. He does not trench upon the difficult
ground of metaphysics, but takes as his subject for discussion Political
Liberty and its Limitations and Objects. In the course of the address
the interesting thesis is evolved that Liberty consists in the power of
doing, not what others approve of, but what they disapprove of, and that
if an individual has not the right to do what others deprecate, he is
not free at all. This thesis is tested by application to several of the
political problems of our own day.


                           ACROSS THE SAHARA.

                    =From Tripoli to Bornu.

                         By HANNS VISCHER, M.A.


       _With Illustrations and a Map. Demy 8vo._ =12s. 6d. net.=

In his adventurous and interesting journey, the author traversed a
region practically unexplored by any white man since the days of Barth.
Starting with a large and somewhat unruly caravan, one of his great
difficulties was to keep the peace between the Arabs and Negros who
composed it: as the expedition advanced farther south they had to
encounter terrible desert tracts where no water could be found for days,
and where oases were few and far between. At a later stage the hostility
of certain native tribes with a taste for brigandage caused serious
trouble, and some severe fighting. The author, however, accepted his
mischances with philosophy, and imparts to the reader the pleasure and
excitement that each day’s journey brought forth. The narrative is
graphic and picturesque, and much information is conveyed incidentally
as to the resources of the country and the life of its inhabitant.

WITH A PREHISTORIC PEOPLE: The A=ki=ku=yu of British East Africa.



_With 176 pages of Illustrations and a Map. Medium 8vo._ =21s. net.=

This is the first published account of one of the most interesting of
African peoples, previously unknown to white men, who have lately come
under British rule. The object of the authors, who have recently
returned from a prolonged sojourn amongst them, is to describe primitive
life as it really exists, and the book should be of great value to those
who are interested in our Empire and its responsibilities as well as to
those of more scientific tastes. It should also prove of material
assistance to Government officials, settlers, and travellers in the
country described, enabling them to understand native thought and
custom. ‘The great interest of the subject,’ say the authors, ‘lies in
the fact that the A-ki-kú-yu of to-day are at the point where our
ancestors stood in earliest times.’ There are nearly two hundred pages
of illustrations from the authors’ photographs.


                    A CENTURY OF EMPIRE, 1801–1900.

                     VOLUME II., FROM 1833 TO 1867.

          By the Right Hon. Sir HERBERT MAXWELL, Bart., P.C.,

    _With Portraits in Photogravure. Demy 8vo., cloth._ =14s. net.=

The second of Sir Herbert Maxwell’s three volumes covers the central
period of the nineteenth century, and extends from the passing of the
first to the passing of the second Reform Bill, the latter date being,
of course, chosen not as marking the close of an epoch, but simply in
order to divide the century as nearly as possible into equal third
parts. The outstanding feature of English politics during the first
portion of this period is the disappearance of the old-time Tories and
the creation of the modern Conservative Party by Sir Robert Peel. Of the
questions which agitated the country in and out of Parliament, two are
of special interest at the present hour—namely, the reform of the
administration of the Poor Law in 1834, and the controversy between
Protection and Free Trade. With the close of the latter by the Repeal of
the Corn Laws and the disappearance of Peel from the scene, a new era
opens. The strife of parties continues under new leaders, some of whom
have only recently passed away; but it is concerned with less momentous
issues, and the interest shifts largely to external matters, the Crimean
War, the Indian Mutiny, the war in the United States, and the beginnings
of great changes in the political system of Europe, where the events of
1848 ushered in a new epoch, which witnessed the struggle for liberty in
Italy, and the sudden rise of Prussia.

It has been said with reference to Sir Herbert Maxwell’s first volume,
that he is a politician, therefore a party man, therefore disqualified
from writing history. The criticism was anticipated by the author, who
has given what is surely the sufficient and only possible answer to
it—namely, that hitherto the writing of the history of the period has
been monopolized by party men—of the other side.

                       WAR AND THE ARME BLANCHE.

                          By ERSKINE CHILDERS,

          With an Introduction by the Right Hon. Field-Marshal
                          EARL ROBERTS, K.G.,

                   _Large crown 8vo._ =7s. 6d. net.=

The writer attacks the present armament of cavalry, with whom the sword
or lance is the dominant weapon, and the rifle the subordinate weapon.
All forms of compromise being impossible, he advocates the abolition of
the steel weapon, and the conversion of cavalry into the highest and
most perfect type of Mounted Riflemen. His historical argument is based
mainly upon the South African War, in the course of which steel weapons
were abandoned altogether, and an exceedingly high type of mounted
rifleman developed; but he traces the slow revolution in mounted
methods, wrought by improved firearms, from the middle of the last
century up to the present day, culminating in the Manchurian War, where,
as in South Africa, the steel was practically of no account. The
author’s view is that the education and efficiency not only of the
cavalry, but of all our mounted troops, home or colonial, regular or
volunteer, mounted infantry, mounted riflemen, or yeomanry, depends on
clear notions as to the relative value of the rival weapons, and he
shows what confusion and obscurity the undefined functions of the steel
weapon import into any consideration of the vitally important functions
of the mounted rifleman. He advocates one pure type, under a single
name—Cavalry—for all purposes.

                              A HISTORY OF
                          THE LONDON HOSPITAL.

                            By E. W. MORRIS,

     _With 16 pages of Illustrations and several Plans. One Volume.
                  Large crown 8vo., cloth._ =6s. net.=

The history of this great Hospital is not only interesting on account of
the particular incidents of its long and honourable career, and the
prominent men who have been connected with it, but also provides a
typical example of the way in which our splendid medical charities have
grown and developed. Beginning with a survey of the condition of
Medicine and Surgery in 1741, the date of the foundation of the
Hospital, the author describes its early days in Goodman’s Field, the
move to Whitechapel, and the gradual growth during the last hundred and
fifty years. He then deals with the system of Administration, Finance,
and Management, the relation of the Hospital to Medical and Surgical
Science, the Medical School, and the Development of Sick Nursing. The
reader is initiated into some noteworthy customs and ceremonies of the
Hospital, and some account is given of the men whose names stand out in
its history. The author has enjoyed exceptional advantages in writing
his book, through his position as Secretary of the Hospital, and has
collected some valuable materials for illustrating it from sources not
generally accessible.

                        NEIGHBOURS AND FRIENDS.

                              By M. LOANE,

                _One Volume. Crown 8vo., cloth._  =6s.=

Miss Loane’s store of anecdotes and thumbnail sketches of the poor,
their ways of living, and their modes of thought and expression, are
apparently inexhaustible. Readers of her earlier works will find in
‘Neighbours and Friends’ a collection as entertaining and as full of
interest as any of its predecessors. Miss Loane never dogmatizes, and
rarely indulges in generalization, but there are few problems connected
with the Administration of Public Relief on which her pages do not throw
fresh light.

                        A SUMMER ON THE CANADIAN

                       By GEORGINA BINNIE CLARK.

                 _With Illustrations. Crown 8vo._ =6s.=

This is a genial and breezy account of how two young English ladies went
out to Canada and joined their brother, who, with another young
Englishman, had taken up a grant of land in the North-West and was
trying to convert it into a farm. The story is ‘told like a novel,’ but
it is obviously founded very closely on facts, and is realistic in the
best sense of the word—a piece of actual everyday life. The sisters do
_not_ fall in love with their brother’s partner, and the young men do
_not_ display any heroic capacity for triumphing over difficulties. On
the contrary, they are rather an ordinary pair of amiable inefficient
people, and they fare accordingly. What happens is consequently very
much more amusing than if the book had been constructed to point a
moral, while there is plenty to be learned from it by those who choose
to read between the lines.

                          AN ENGLISH STUDENT’S
                        WANDER-YEAR IN AMERICA.

                         By A. G. BOWDEN-SMITH.

              _One Volume. Crown 8vo., cloth._ =5s. net.=

The author of this book has made a study of an aspect of American life
which will be novel to most English readers. She was fortunate enough to
be able to visit representative specimens of every variety of higher
educational centre—and in America there are many varieties. Being fresh
from the life of Newnham College, she was peculiarly alert to note the
points in which they resembled and differed from the corresponding
institutions in England; and she has traced with remarkable shrewdness
the resulting effects, not only in respect to education in the narrower
sense, but on individual character, and in the form of influences,
subtle and far-reaching, on social development. She had the advantage of
meeting the students on an equal footing, and so gained many
opportunities of seeing things as they are which an ‘educational expert’
of higher standing and authority could not have enjoyed. But Miss Bowden
Smith is herself an educational expert in a very real sense, and readers
of her comprehensive and sympathetic survey will feel that they have
gained a quite new insight into the character of the American people.

                         THE CLERGY AND SOCIAL

           =Cambridge Lectures on Pastoral Theology.

                  By the Very Rev. W. MOORE EDE, D.D.,
                           DEAN OF WORCESTER.

            _One Volume. Crown 8vo., cloth._ =2s. 6d. net.=

These lectures differ from others delivered on Pastoral Theology at
Cambridge in the extent to which they emphasise the opportunities of
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utilizing them—a subject in which their author has had great experience
through his intimate connection with industrial life and working-class
organizations. That this aspect of clerical life is pre-eminently the
one which needs to be brought before candidates for Holy Orders at the
present time is the general opinion of those who would see the social
re-organization which is now taking place dominated by spiritual rather
than by materialistic ideals. There are six lectures, entitled: What is
the Church and what are its Duties?—Equipment for the Work—Reading,
Preaching and Speaking—Agencies Outside the Church which are Working for
Social Redemption—The Church and Charity—The Church as Teacher and
Inspirer of Education.


                           THREE NEW  NOVELS.


                             FRANKLIN KANE.

                       By ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK,

                           _Crown 8vo._ =6s.=

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revealed as irredeemably ordinary, weak, egoistic; two as self-reliant,
noble, and capable of clear-eyed self-sacrifice. Ultimately the
determining factor is character, which proves stronger than the chains
of circumstance. It is comedy, but serious comedy, and the situations
towards the close have a poignancy of which Miss Sedgwick alone
possesses the secret.

                            BY A NEW AUTHOR.


              =A Tale of the North Country Fells.

                          By EMILY JENKINSON.

                      _Crown 8vo., cloth._  =6s.=

Every page of this powerful and original novel is fragrant with the
fresh mountain air of the Fells. What Thomas Hardy has done for the
people of Wessex, Miss Jenkinson aims with considerable success at doing
for the Northern Dalesmen. ‘Silverwool’ is a prize ram, and the action
of the story to some extent centres round his fortunes in the
show-ground, affording the author scope for some very interesting
studies of country life and character. The situations are excellent, the
characters well-drawn, and the style literary and charming.

                         A STEPSON OF THE SOIL.

                         By MARY J. H. SKRINE.

                      _Crown 8vo., cloth._  =6s.=

This story deals with life in an English village of the southern
counties. It concerns itself chiefly with an old couple in an old
cottage, their ‘hidy-holes,’ their relations with each other, and with a
runaway waif, who becomes their lodger: also with the fortunes in love
and luck of handsome Robert Burn, the Warrener; and with the local wise
woman and her ‘lawful arts.’ It is impossible to do justice to the charm
and skill of the story in a mere outline. The waif, Phil White, is
admirably drawn, so are the old Dallins. There is a delicate strength in
the picture of Jane Dallin, which will be appreciated by every reader.




                           Transcriber’s Note

Errors deemed most likely to be the printer’s have been corrected, and
are noted here. The references are to the page and line in the original.
References to errors in the index also include the column (1 or 2).

Words that were hyphenated on a line break retain the hyphen if the
preponderance of other instances of the word support that. Otherwise,
hyphenation follows the text.

The word ‘Carbineers’ is spelled once as ‘Carabineers’, which is an
alternative form, and is left as printed.

In the Index, a reference to the Mounted Infantry Training Manual of
1898 directs the reader to the text on p. 273, which mentions the Manual
of 1899. It is assumed that the text is correct.

  33.20      on page 15 of “Cavalry in Future Wars[,]”    Inserted.

  41.23      from horseback with safe[l/t]y to themselves Replaced.

  75.22      Happily the Boer[s] leaders                  Removed.

  275.21     On the debatable point of over-weight[,] Mr. Added.

  325.19     with the British “Cavalry Training,[’/”]     Replaced.

  333.31     he wrote of “enterprises[”] which demanded   Removed.

  340.4      (described fully in our “British Officers'   Removed.
             Reports,” [(]vol. ii.)

  373.1.40   Broadwood, Brigadie[r]-General R. G.         Inserted

  376.2.47   McCullagh, Francis (author of “With the      Added.

  377.1.37   (189[8/9]), 273                              Replaced.

  378.2.56   Spaits, Captain (author of “Mit Kosaken      Added.
             durch die Mandschurei,”[)] 336–8

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