This article was published in the The 3rd The King’s Own Hussars Magazine in January 1936 and written by the then Commanding officer; Lt Col RR de C Grubb MC.
Many readers already know that the Regiment was asked to experiment with mechanization during the Training Season of 1935. The main idea of the experiment was to replace the horses of one of the squadrons with motor cars and motor bicycles and then to try to carry out all the duties of Cavalry, mounted on horses. If successful there was little doubt that the experiment would be extended to the whole Regiment.
It was a pretty distasteful proposition for horse lovers, especially when we had over a hundred young horses which we had trained since the arrival of the Regiment from abroad and amongst which are some of the best show jumpers in England. It had to be faced, however, and a great many of us comforted ourselves with the thought that the experiment was doomed to failure. At first, we could not visualise that a cavalry regiment mounted in motor cars and on motor bicycles could begin to do the Cavalry job.
To failure, however, the experiment was not doomed. When we got going, we got keener and keener on the task. Moreover, the more we delved into it the more we believed in it until finally, we became convinced that the days of Cavalry, mounted on horses, are very nearly over.
None of us who have fought in war can be anything else but overjoyed to think that no 3rd Hussar will ever see his “long-faced pal’ – his best pal – suffering in war – suffering in silence, from privation, weariness or mutilation. Nevertheless, every man of the Regiment feels a lump in his throat at the prospect of losing his horse. There is something about a horse and the comradeship of a horse that is inexplicable. Something we know we shall miss and which can never be replaced.
The trend of modern thought and action is for speed and more speed. This means rapid thinking and rapid movement. This in its turn means aeroplanes and high-speed motor vehicles; and horses carrying the lightest of weights if they are to be employed at all. Further still, it means that the organisation of units must be the simplest possible for command, or else thought and forethought will not be able to keep ahead of the pace.
The aeroplane has its well-known limitations as a military machine. It can obviously never entirely replace mobile troops on the ground.
The most mobile motor vehicle is the motor bicycle and the next most mobile vehicle to it is the motor car. Both are faster than the horse. Motor bicycles must therefore be used wherever possible and motor cars must be used when motor bicycles cannot be used. Horses must only be employed where motor vehicles cannot be employed. If Cavalry on horses is to continue at all, they must be organised and equipped for mobility. Eight miles an hour must be their speed. Forty miles a day must be their march. The riders must be light They must be freed from impedimenta. They must be mounted on small, hardy 15.1 to 15.2 horses. When track vehicles are employed there is a loss of speed, mobility and simplicity. Track vehicles must not, therefore, be used when wheeled vehicles can traverse the ground.
Heavily armoured track vehicles which are of necessity slow-moving owing to their weight of armour, are a false conception of mechanized mobility. Such vehicles belong to the Infantry battle. They are not part of the Mechanized Cavalry Arm. By the Mechanized Cavalry Arm is meant not merely the transport of Infantry in lorries, but a Mechanized Cavalry capable of disintegration; capable of finding its own protection and means of intercommunication. Troops are divisible into sections, and sections with the power to throw out scouts and messengers, all part of Mechanized cavalry formations, accompanied by light tanks and mechanized artillery to give them a punch when a punch is required.
If armed with an effective armour piercing rifle, issued down to sections, Infantrymen. Cavalrymen on horses or Mechanized Cavalrymen have no longer to run away from light tanks or armoured cars. Instead of running away, they can fight their lightly armoured adversary on more than equal terms owing to his blindness and their own greater mobility.
The day of the armoured reconnaissance vehicle, namely the light tank and the armoured car is on the wane. The armour piercing bullet is overtaking light armour and the tank is now having to put on heavy armour, consequently, reducing its speed, and so become relegated to an Infantry accessory. Mechanized cavalry is the mobile aim of the future.
Mechanized Cavalry must be prepared to accompany armoured cars on long-distance reconnaissance in order to remove hostile roadblocks and in order to ascertain the strength and dispositions of the enemy when it is beyond the task of armoured cars.
Mechanized Cavalry must be prepared to carry out long-distance reconnaissance alone, in the absence of armoured cars.
Mechanized Cavalry must be prepared to establish a screen of blocks against hostile armoured cars and light tanks.
Mechanized Cavalry can be used to clear away minor opposition, with or without the assistance of light tanks and Mechanized Artillery.
Mechanized Cavalry must be prepared to reconnoitre the enclosed and difficult country.
When the ground is encountered over which their motor vehicles cannot pass, the procedure is to dismount from the vehicles and continue on foot, the vehicles meeting the dismounted men and picking them up again at the first opportunity. Slasher and wire cutters can be carried in every car for use when thick strong fences are met with, round which no open way can be found. Ladders can be carried for the traverse of ditches.
Mechanized Cavalry, by reason of their speed, can travel fast onto positions which have to be seized and by reason of their firepower can hold the positions effectively when they arrive. Further, the personnel arrive fresh and ready for action.
Mechanized Cavalry can escort embossed Infantry.
Mechanized Cavalry can be used to consolidate or exploit, after the capture of an enemy position, and under certain circumstances to assist in the attack dismounted.
The pursuit of a defeated enemy is affected by Mechanized Cavalry by using its mobility to place itself across the lines of retreat of the enemy, and by use of machine guns and bayonets in these positions after they have been reached. It is visualized that by this means Mechanized Cavalry will be able to cut off a desecrated retreating enemy and reduce him to a state of surrender, just as effectively as has been done by the use of sword and lance in the past.
Some of the old members of the Regiment saw the beginning of mechanization of the Regiment at the Re-union in July. We are now far ahead of that.
Every effort has been made throughout the experiment to keep the tactics of Mechanized Cavalry to the principles laid down in ‘ Cavalry Training” with the motor vehicles substituted for the horses. Mechanized Cavalry has been evolved out of horsed cavalry, as opposed to producing something new. All the principles of Cavalry action have been emulated, and the tactical operations of horsed Cavalry have been carried out, only with vehicles substituted for horses. Moreover, the wheeled vehicle has not only proved superior to the track or semi-truck vehicle in mobility but also superior to it over the country. We are now in a position to compare Mechanized Cavalry with horsed Cavalry.
Cavalry on horses still retains the advantage over Mechanized Cavalry for high speed over short distances in certain types of country in which Mechanized Cavalry can only operate dismounted and along dusty roads such as the roads of India where rapid movement is impossible for formed bodies of Mechanized Cavalry unless there is a side wind, also, for the power of dispersion down to individuals and rapid concentration back into small formed bodies over difficult ground.
They are heavily outmatched, however, by Mechanized Cavalry for speed over distances of over two miles and in weapon and ammunition carrying capacity, and it is speed over long distances and ammunition carrying capacity that is required by Independent cavalry in order to effect surprise and in order to seize important localities ahead of the main divisions, before the stagnation of defensive ground warfare sets in.
High speed is also required in order to exploit the success of the main divisions.
Moreover, Mechanized Cavalry can operate at long distances from supporting transport. It has no long administrative tail. Wherever the Section car is located there also is the Boxcar containing blankets and the more immediate necessities of life. Cavalry mounted on horses when operating at even a short distance from supporting transport, must either wait for food, blankets and other necessities or go without.
The inclusion of even a small detachment of horses in a Mechanized Cavalry unit is impossible unless they are to be carried in horseboxes or trailers, and this would complicate command and administration – complications which must be avoided in a mechanized mobile force.
Those of us who have served in South Africa, India, Anatolia, Thrace and Egypt, when we look back is able to visualize the Mechanized Regiment doing our tasks just as well as we were able to do them mounted on our horses. True there were occasions on which we would have preferred our horses, but there were many more occasions when we found have preferred our mechanical mounts.
The conclusion that we have to come to is that the horse may remain at least for some years to come, for the purpose of carrying out tactical reconnaissance for Infantry, either as Divisional cavalry or, alternatively, as mounted troops of Infantry Battalions for tactical reconnaissance and personal reconnaissance of commanders; also that Cavalry mounted on horses may remain for operations in enclosed dusty countries. With these exceptions, however, the operations which were formerly carried out by formed bodies of Cavalry on horses will undoubtedly be carried out by Mechanized Cavalry in future. Formations composed of the most speedy troops will replace the strategic Cavalry of old. It will be Mechanized cavalry that in future will move ahead or on the flanks of the more slowly moving bulk of the army, and which will ultimately be used to exploit success.
Mechanized Cavalry has come to stay.
The generation of 3rd Hussars to come will know not what they have missed, and so they will have no regrets. Of mucking out stables – of the forge in June in Lucknow and of vicious kickers and jibbers, they will hear but the yarns of the old ‘canteen wallahs’ and will think themselves the more fortunate to have no worse troubles than wallowing in grease – and barking their knuckles on nuts and bolts instead.
Troop Sergeants will no longer be able to delight in turning out stable bags in search of doughnuts and “wads” of many other varieties but instead will drive luxury cars with their thermos flask and picnic basket in the back.
NEC ASPERA TERRENT