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Due to the nature of trench warfare, a cavalry or a horse-back squad would've been rather useless in the war. But, I also know that countries had not anticipated trench warfare - they didn't know that their troops were going to dig holes in the ground to defend themselves from enemy machine guns. So I was just wondering if any countries deployed their cavalry.
British Cavalry was surprising successful on the occasions it was employed by local commanders in small scale attacks exploiting gaps in the German defensive lines after the Germans had withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line from late 1916 onwards. Despite what many ill-informed commentators say, many citing quite erroneous accounts by eye-witnesses who get the fundamentals wrong because they did not see what happened but thought they knew what should have happened, death tolls were not always high. Charging horses, moving fast did manage to avoid much of the machine gun fire directed at them Additionally, British Cavalry Regiments contained a section of machine guns and horsed field artillery that could be employed to suppress German fire. High Wood is a good example although most of the casualties cited above were sustained well after the original charge and occupation of the High Wood hill. The true value of cavalry emerged as a means of exploiting a gap and pushing forward to occupy ground that the infantry were too tired to reach. It worked!
Many knowledgeable historians will also theorise that the 1918 German Offensive fails in part because strong cavalry forces were not available to German generals to push the British hard enough to completely break them. The absence of cavalry at brigade and divisional level meant that German infantry were advancing without being able to adequately protect the flanks of their attacks with cavalry.
Don't forget that all modern cavalry carried rifles and were trained to rapidly deploy them.
Probably the only large cavalry charge is the one Australians performed during the battle of Beer Sheva. The ANZAC forces were in fact mounted infantry and the charge was performed with infantry weapons (no lances but rifles with bayonets), this was surprising for Turkish defenders. It was so quick that the Turks could not destroy wells.
On other fronts (especially in Poland, Russia and Romania) cavalry performed reconnaissance tasks, but played no major role in any battle. Many cavalry men changed forces; one of the most notable examples was Manfred von Richthofen, the best pilot during the war. He had the rank Rittmeister, which is cavalry captain. His brother, Lothar, also a famous ace, was a cavalry man too.
Yes. See Wikipedia.
All of the major combatants in World War I (1914-1918) began the conflict with cavalry forces. The Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, stopped using them on the Western Front soon after the war began. They continued to be deployed in a limited fashion on the Eastern Front well into the war. The Ottoman Empire used cavalry extensively during the war. On the Allied side, the United Kingdom used mounted infantry and cavalry charges throughout the war, but the United States used cavalry for only a short time. Although not particularly successful on the Western Front, Allied cavalry did have some success in the Middle Eastern theatre, possibly because they faced a weaker and less technologically advanced enemy. Russia used cavalry forces on the Eastern Front, but with limited success.
Although trench warfare is the image of WWI, not all the war was fought from or in trenches.
One of the last cavalry charges of the war came at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The attack was on July 14th on High Wood - a German strongpoint that was holding up the British advance. Men from the 20th Deccan Horse, an Indian cavalry unit, attacked the German positions. Armed with lances and despite going uphill which slowed down the charging horses, some of the men reached the woods. Some Germans surrendered when confronted by cavalry in woodland - something they could not have expected. However, the attack, while brave, was very costly with 102 men killed along with 130 horses.
That is just from 10 minutes of cursory research; a more skilled scholar could doubtless pull up other examples.
Cavalry were certainly used during the First World War.
It is worth remembering that the First World War was a world war, and wasn't limited to the attritional trench warfare of the Western Front, which is often the first image that people call to mind when they think of that war.
To give just one example from another theatre of the war, the Battle of Beersheba, in Ottoman Syria on 31 October 1917, included what has often been called the "last successful cavalry charge in history". The 4th Brigade of the Australian Light Horse charged Turkish positions in the town (supported by British artillery which successfully suppressed Turkish machine-gun positions).
It seems appropriate to be answering this today, on the centenary of the charge of the Australian Light Horse, which was instrumental in the capture of the town of Beersheba.
The capture of Beersheba broke the Gaza-Beersheba defensive line, and the Ottoman Seventh and Eighth Armies were forced into retreat. Gaza would fall a week later, and on 9 December 1917, British troops entered Jerusalem.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse here, I think we need to mention another aspect - the attitudes of the top commanders. The most glaring example I have in mind is Haig who famously told young officers (the remark may be apocryphal but certainly reflective of his recorded opinions) in July 1914:
I hope none of you gentlemen is so foolish as to think that aeroplanes will be usefully employed for reconnaissance purposes in war. There is only one way for commanders to get information by reconnaissance, and that is by the cavalry
Well, that may be understandable, but amazingly the man persisted in this opinion and this is what he had to say in 1926 (yep, nineteen twenty-six, eight years after the end of the war):
I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse-the well-bred horse-as you have ever done in the past.
(quoted from a page that does a really admirable job of skewering Haig).
However, not all cavalry commanders of WWI were bloody cruel butchers like Haig. An example of a cavalry general who both did his job well (on the Eastern Front) and learnt enough in the process to realize that cavalry was over is Mannerheim.
One more thing worthy of mention: Celaya.
Cavalry was used only sporadically in World War I. On the Western Front, there were only a handful of divisions used for "special services" such as scouting and transport. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_cavalry_during_the_First_World_War
In the Eastern front, where distances were larger, cavalry was used as "spearheads," e.g. by the Germans at the battle of Tannenburg, and by Russia's General Brusilov.
Cavalry was also used in "peripheral" areas such as the invasion of Iraq (then held by the Ottoman Empire).
They were certainly used. But see John Terraine. He maintained it was irresponsible to plan an offensive without bringing up cavalry to exploit a success. Tanks from 1916 could break in, but not exploit. Cavalry couldn't fulfil their traditional role of exploitation, barbed wire and a machine gun stopped them.
They did not have what they needed - the Blitzkrieg tank. Warfare was at a hiatus in technology. World war 1 - also the only war fought without voice command.
The Last Great Cavalry Charge of WW1: The Jodhpur Lancers
During the First World War cavalry became largely irrelevant in warfare. Machine guns, repeating rifles, and the advent of trench warfare made the battlefield almost impossible for mounted attacks. But, in September 1918 the Jodhpur Lancers, one of India’s elite cavalry regiments, attacked German and Turkish defenses in the Mediterranean town of Haifa in what has been described as the last great cavalry charge in history.
Pratap Singh was born in October 1845, the third son of Maharaja Takhat Singh, the ruler of the Princely State of Jodhpur in northwestern India. Pratap Singh learned to ride and shoot when he was a young boy and served in the British Army during the Second Afghan War in the late 1870s.
Singh’s experiences led him to become interested in the notion of forming an army for the State of Jodhpur. Although the state did have what passed for an armed force, it was ill-disciplined and almost completely without training. Singh decided to form his own regiment of lancers.
Sir Pratap Singh of Idar
With his father’s agreement, he provided horses, weapons, and uniforms for sixty of his followers, while Singh was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of Cavalry. In 1889, the colonial Indian government requested that each Princely State should raise military units to serve with the Imperial forces.
Singh’s small force rapidly expanded into a regiment of three hundred mounted men, named the Sardar Rissala (Jodhpur Lancers).
During the late 1800s, the Jodhpur Lancers became one of the best-known and most glamorous regiments in India. They adopted the motto Jo Hokum (I obey) and the wealth of the Maharaja ensured that the unit was always superbly equipped and mounted.
Imperial Service Troops circa 1908
Meanwhile, the regiment’s polo team became very successful and traveled as far as the United Kingdom to participate in competitions. Additionally, Pratap Singh mingled with some of the most senior officers in the British Army and with members of the British Royal Family who often visited Jodhpur.
Although the Lancers were involved in occasional actions against rebellious tribes, what Singh wanted more than anything was to lead his men into action on behalf of the British Empire. In 1900 he got his chance–the Jodhpur Lancers were ordered to China as part of a multi-national force of British, Russian, Japanese, German, and American troops formed to fight the Boxer Rebellion.
NSW Naval Contingent & 12 pdr 8 cwt gun Boxer Rebellion
Pratap Singh was leading when the Lancers finally encountered the enemy. However, until he personally killed an enemy soldier, his troops only used the blunt end of their lances since it was important for the honor of the regiment that the commanding officer drew first blood.
This he did, and although the Lancers saw relatively little combat, they performed well. Singh was later promoted to the rank of Major-General and appointed Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB).
When the First World War began in 1914, Sir Pratap Singh immediately offered to lead the Jodhpur Lancers to France where he hoped to be allowed to fight the Germans. When he was informed that there was very little chance of any cavalry unit being involved in a charge in the war he replied, “I will make an opportunity!”
Pratap Singh in 1914
The Jodhpur Lancers arrived in Flanders in October 1914 and remained on the Western Front for over three years. There they participated in several unsuccessful attempts to break through German lines, including at the Battle of Cambrai where they followed British tanks into action.
In early 1918 the regiment was posted to the 15 th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. With the brigade they were sent as part of an Expeditionary Force first to Egypt and then to the British Mandate of Palestine (present day Israel) where British forces were fighting Turkish and German troops.
A Mark IV (Male) tank of ‘H’ Battalion, ‘Hyacinth’, ditched in a German trench while supporting 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment near Ribecourt during the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917.
By this time, Sir Pratap Singh was seventy-three years old and many of his subordinates urged him to take a less active role in leading the regiment. Nonetheless, he refused and often spent whole days in the saddle and nights camped in the desert with his men.
During the British advance in September 1918, the Jodhpur Lancers were continuously in action. At one point, Pratap Singh spent over thirty hours in the saddle and the regiment covered more than five-hundred miles in thirty days.
On September 23, 1918, the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade was ordered to take the strategically important and heavily defended port city of Haifa. Turkish troops had taken up positions in front of the town and were supported by German and Austro-Hungarian artillery on the hills above.
Indian Jodhpur lancers marching through Haifa after it was captured
By this time Pratap Singh was ill with a fever exacerbated by exhaustion. In his absence, the Lancers were led by Major Dalpat Singh.
A unit of the Mysore Lancers was sent to attack German and Austro-Hungarian gun positions while the Jodhpur Lancers were ordered to attack the city itself. The four hundred Jodhpur Lancers drew themselves up in a battle formation to the east of the city, 4,000 yards from the enemy. They faced almost one-thousand entrenched Turkish troops protected by barbed wire and covered by at least four machine guns.
Mysore Lancer sowar and horse
Led by Major Dalpat Singh, the regiment began to trot towards the Turkish lines. Ignoring constant enemy fire, they accelerated to a canter until, as they passed through a narrow gorge close to the entrenchments, they reached the ‘break-in point’ and accelerated into the final gallop. Almost at once Major Singh fell, mortally wounded by a Turkish bullet.
Maddened with rage at the loss of their commander, the remaining Jodhpur Lancers hurled themselves at the Turkish positions. Many men and horses were brought down by the hail of rifle and machine gun fire, but as they smashed into the trench line the survivors wrought terrible carnage with lance and saber.
Firing line of a troop of Jodhpur Lancers
Stunned by the ferocity of the attack, the Turkish troops fled towards the town square with the Lancers in pursuit. A short time later, the defenders of Haifa surrendered en-masse.
After more than four hundred years of Turkish occupation, Haifa was finally in British hands. Seven-hundred Turkish troops were captured along with sixteen artillery pieces and ten machine guns. In the official history of the British campaign in Palestine that was published in 1919, it was said of the charge of the Jodhpur Lancers that “No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign.”
Troop of Jodhpur Lancers coming into action dismounted
The charge was the last large-scale cavalry action made by the British Army in wartime. The Jodhpur Lancers fought again for the British in the Second World War, but by then they had swapped their horses for armored vehicles. The unit was later absorbed into the Indian Army following independence in 1947.
After the First World War, Sir Pratap Singh returned to Jodhpur where he died in 1922 at the age of seventy-seven. At the time of his death, his full and rather intimidating title was Lieutenant-General His Highness Maharajadhiraja Maharaja Shri Sir Pratap Singh Sahib Bahadur, GCB, GCSI, GCVO.
Officers of the Jodhpur Lancers
However, perhaps his memory is best served by a description of Sir Pratap Singh provided by General Harbord, a friend and the Commander of the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade:
“I have always looked upon him as the finest Indian I have ever had the honor to know–loyal to the core, a sportsman to his finger-tips, a gallant soldier and a real gentleman.”
The opening clashes of the war saw cavalry used in its traditional role. Mounted men were sent ahead to scout out the terrain and enemy formations. They sometimes formed bridgeheads into which other troops could advance.
One of the most successful expeditions was led by the German Lieutenant Hyazinth von Strachwitz, later a Panzer commander in WWII. The 21-year-old Strachwitz, a Guards Cavalry officer, volunteered for a dangerous long-range patrol. With 16 hand-picked men, he spent six weeks roaming around behind the French army, gathering intelligence, cutting telegraph lines, and blowing up rail tracks. They created fear in Paris and diverted soldiers to hunt them down. They were eventually captured but had achieved a lot.
There were fights between cavalry troops. On September 6, 1914, the German 1 st Guard Dragoons fought the British 9 th Lancers at Moncel.
Prior to the war, a census of British horses had been taken, identifying how many were available, how much they ate, and what type of work they were suitable for. Their nearest train station was also listed.
In the first few weeks of the conflict, the Army requisitioned around 120,000 horses from the civilian population. Owners who could not prove that their horses were needed for essential transport or agricultural duties had to surrender them.
Dr Reginal Hill worked for the Army Remount Department. He used the stationery box below on his travels around the country. It contains everything he needed to buy horses for the Army, including a chequebook, numerous official forms and labels, as well as a branding iron.View this object
Stationary box for purchasing horses used by Dr Reginal Hill of the Army Remount Department , c1914View this object
Impressment order for the requisition of horses, c1914
Cavalry and World War One
In the very early days of World War One, cavalry was a devastating weapon when used against infantry. A British cavalry charge at the Battle of Mons was enough to hold off the advancing Germans. However, with the coming of static trench warfare, the use of cavalry became rare. Barbed wire, mud and machine guns were a deadly combination for any cavalry soldier. Horses became beasts of burden as opposed to having any strategic impact on the Western Front in terms of their use in cavalry attacks.
One of the last cavalry charges of the war came at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The attack was on July 14th on High Wood – a German strongpoint that was holding up the British advance. Men from the 20th Deccan Horse, an Indian cavalry unit, attacked the German positions. Armed with lances and despite going uphill which slowed down the charging horses, some of the men reached the woods. Some Germans surrendered when confronted by cavalry in woodland – something they could not have expected. However, the attack, while brave, was very costly with 102 men killed along with 130 horses. Just two months later the tank was used in the battle effectively signalling the end of any chance of success that a cavalry attack might have.
Animals in World War One, 1914-1918
A single soldier on his horse, during a cavalry patrol in World War I. At the start of the war every major army had a substantial cavalry, and they performed well at first. However, the development of barbed wire, machine guns and trench warfare soon made attacks from horseback far more costly and ineffective on the Western Front. Cavalry units did prove useful throughout the war in other theaters though, including the Eastern Front, and the Middle East.
The extent of the logistical apparatus that made the war feasible is almost impossible to imagine. Today, hundreds of tons of armaments remain to be discovered under the former battlefields of Belgium and France. The numbers and weights involved are vast: during the Battle of Verdun, for example, some 32 million shells were fired, while the British barrage preceding the Battle of the Somme fired some 1.5 million shells (in total, nearly 250 million shells were used by the British army and navy during the war).
Gas attack on the West Front, near St. Quentin 1918—a German messenger dog loosed by his handler. Dogs were used throughout the war as sentries, scouts, rescuers, messengers, and more.
Railways, trucks and ships transported these munitions for much of their journey, but they also relied on hundreds of thousands of horses, donkeys, oxen and even camels or dogs for their transport. Field guns were pulled into position by teams of six to 12 horses, and the dead and wounded carted away in horse-drawn ambulances.
The millions of men at the Front and behind the lines also had to be fed and supplied with equipment, much of which was again hauled by four-legged beasts of burden. Because of the deep mud and craters at the front, much of this could only be carried by mules or horses. Even the British army, which could boast that it was the most mechanised of the belligerent forces, relied largely on horse power for its transport, much of it organised by the Army Service Corps: by November 1918, the British army had almost 500,000 horses, which helped to distribute 34,000 tons of meat and 45,000 tons of bread each month.
German soldiers pose near a horse mounted with a purpose-built frame, used to accommodate a captured Russian Maxim M1910 machine gun complete with its wheeled mount and ammunition box.
Bandages retrieved from the kit of a British Dog, ca. 1915.
The animals themselves needed feeding and watering, and British horses had to carry some 16,000 tons of forage each month. In total, perhaps six million horses were engaged by all sides. Looking after these animals were specially trained soldiers, who knew how to care for such beasts from their jobs before the war, and who were also trained in modern methods of animal husbandry (although the level of training varied from army to army).
Without the millions of horses, mules and donkeys serving on the various fronts, the war of attrition would have been impossible. Losses through exhaustion, disease (such as infection from the tsetse fly in East Africa), starvation and enemy action were high. 120,000 horses were treated in British veterinary hospitals in one year, many of which were field hospitals.
A pigeon with a small camera attached. The trained birds were used experimentally by German citizen Julius Neubronner, before and during the war years, capturing aerial images when a timer mechanism clicked the shutter.
The resupply of horses and other animals was a major concern for the leadership of all sides. At the outbreak of the war, Britain’s horse population stood at under 25,000, and so it turned to the United States (which supplied around a million horses during the war), Canada and Argentina.
Germany had prepared for war with an extensive breeding and registration programme, and at the start of the war had a ratio of one horse to every three men. However, while the Allies could import horses from America, the Central Powers could only replace their losses by conquest, and requisitioned many thousands from Belgium, from invaded French territory and from the Ukraine. The difficulty of replacing horses arguably contributed to the eventual defeat of the Central Powers.
Unloading a mule in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1915. The escalating warfare drove Britain and France to import horses and mules from overseas by the hundreds of thousands. Vulnerable transport ships were frequent targets of the German Navy, sending thousands of animals to the bottom of the sea.
Despite the machine gun, barbed wire and trenches (or thick bushes in the Levant), cavalry proved to be remarkably effective during the conflict where mobile fighting could take place. Cavalry saw considerable action at Mons, and Russian cavalry penetrated deep into Germany during the early phases of the war. Cavalry were still occasionally used in their traditional role as shock troops even later in the war.
Cavalry were effective in Palestine, although were obstructed by thick bushes as much as by barbed wire. Cavalrymen from Britain and her colonies were trained to fight both on foot and mounted, which perhaps accounts for horses’ more frequent use by these armies than by other European forces during the conflict. But most military tacticians had already recognised that the importance of mounted soldiers had waned in the age of mechanised war, a shift that had already become apparent in the American Civil War.
Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. The Boston Bull Terrier started out as the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, and ended up becoming a full-fledged combat dog. Brought up to the front lines, he was injured in a gas attack early on, which gave him a sensitivity to gas that later allowed him to warn his soldiers of incoming gas attacks by running and barking. He helped find wounded soldiers, even captured a German spy who was trying to map allied trenches. Stubby was the first dog ever given rank in the United States Armed Forces, and was highly decorated for his participation in seventeen engagements, and being wounded twice.
Where cavalry regiments were maintained on the Western Front, many considered them a drain on men and resources, and futile in the face of machine guns. This was despite the esteem in which such regiments were still held in the traditional military mind, and the public popularity of the image of the dashing cavalryman.
Members of the Royal Scots Greys cavalry regiment rest their horses by the side of the road, in France.
As well as acting as beasts of burden or participants in the fighting, animals also played a vital role in communication. Trained dogs were used to carry messages from the front lines, especially by the German forces, and both sides made particularly heavy use of pigeons. Trained birds, which could fly at 40kph or faster, relayed messages back from the front lines to headquarters, often more reliably or securely than telecommunications or radio.
Naval ships, submarines and military aeroplanes routinely carried several pigeons to deploy in case of sinking or a crash landing. Mobile homing pigeon units acted as communication hubs, and in Britain pigeon fanciers assisted in breeding and training for the war effort. The French deployed some 72 pigeon lofts.
Pigeons also captured the popular imagination, with one American bird, ‘Cher Ami’, awarded a French medal for her service within the American sector near the town of Verdun. On her last mission she successfully carried her message, despite being shot through the chest, and purportedly saved the lives of 194 American soldiers with her news.
At Kemmel, West Flanders, Belgium. The effect of enemy artillery fire upon German ambulances, in May of 1918.
Animals also served important psychological functions during war. The military had long had a close association with animals, either as symbols of courage (such as lions), or through the image of the warrior and his horse. Similarly, the enemy could be depicted as an enraged beast, as Allied propaganda presented the German war machine. The Central Powers revelled in depicting the British Empire as a duplicitous, colonising ‘octopus’, an image that was in turn used against them by the French.
Regiments and other military groups often used animals as their symbol, emphasising ferocity and bravery, and also adopted mascots, both as a means of helping to forge comradeship and to keep up morale. A Canadian battalion even brought a black bear with them to Europe, which was given to London Zoo, where the creature inspired the fictional character of Winnie the Pooh.
Red Crescent Hospital at Hafir Aujah, 1916.
There are many stories of the close relationship between men and their animals, whether bringing a reminder of a more peaceful life at home on the farm or as a source of companionship in the face of the inhumanity of man. It is claimed that communications dogs were of little use among British soldiers, as they were petted too much and given too many rations from men in the trenches.
Close proximity also brought dangers to men at the front. Manure brought disease, as did the rotting bodies of dead horses and mules that could not be removed from the mud or no-man’s-land.
A corporal, probably on the staff of the 2nd Australian general hospital, holds a koala, a pet or mascot in Cairo, in 1915.
Animals at home also suffered. Many in Britain were killed in an invasion scare, and food shortages elsewhere led to starvation and death. Lack of horses and other beasts of burden sometimes led to the ingenious use of circus or zoo animals, such as Lizzie the elephant, who did war service for the factories of Sheffield. In total, the World War I in which 10 million soldiers died, also resulted in the deaths of 8 million military horses.
Turkish cavalry exercises on the Saloniki front, Turkey, March of 1917.
A messenger dog with a spool attached to a harness for laying out new electric line in September of 1917.
An Indian elephant, from the Hamburg Zoo, used by Germans in Valenciennes, France to help move tree trunks in 1915. As the war dragged on, beasts of burden became scarce in Germany, and some circus and zoo animals were requisitioned for army use.
German officers in an automobile on the road with a convoy of wagons soldiers walk along side the road.
“These homing pigeons are doing much to save the lives of our boys in France. They act as efficient messengers and dispatch bearers not only from division to division and from the trenches to the rear but also are used by our aviators to report back the results of their observation”.
Belgian Army pigeons. Homing pigeon stations were set up behind the front lines, the pigeons themselves sent forward, to return later with messages tied to their legs.
Two soldiers with motorbikes, each with a wicker basket strapped to his back. A third man is putting a pigeon in one of the baskets. In the background there are two mobile pigeon lofts and a number of tents. The soldier in the middle has the grenade badge of the Royal Engineers over the chevrons which show he is a sergeant.
A message is attached to a carrier pigeon by British troops on the Western Front, 1917. One of France’s homing pigeons, named Cher Ami, was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre with Palm” for heroic service delivering 12 important messages during the Battle of Verdun.
A draft horse hitched to a post, its partner just killed by shrapnel, 1916.
The feline mascot of the light cruiser HMAS Encounter, peering from the muzzle of a 6-inch gun.
General Kamio, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Army at the formal entry of Tsing-Tau, December, 1914. The use of horses was vital to armies around the world during World War I.
Belgian refugees leaving Brussels, their belongings in a wagon pulled by a dog, 1914.
Australian Camel Corps going into action at Sharia near Beersheba, in December of 1917. The Colonel and many of these men were killed an hour or so afterward.
A soldier and his horse in gas masks, ca. 1918.
German Red Cross Dogs head to the front.
An episode in Walachia, Romania.
Belgian chasseurs pass through the town of Daynze, Belgium, on the way from Ghent to meet the German invasion.
The breakthrough west of St. Quentin, Aisne, France. Artillery drawn by horses advances through captured British positions on March 26, 1918.
Western Front, shells carried on horseback, 1916.
Camels line a huge watering station, Asluj, Palestinian campaign, 1916.
A British Mark V tank passes by a dead horse in the road in Peronne, France in 1918.
A dog-handler reads a message brought by a messenger dog, who had just swum across a canal in France, during World War I.
Horses requisitioned for the war effort in Paris, France, ca. 1915. Farmers and families on the home front endured great hardship when their best horses were taken for use in the war.
In Belgium, after the Battle of Haelen, a surviving horse is used in the removal of dead horses killed in the conflict, 1914.
A dog trained to search for wounded soldiers while under fire, 1915.
Algerian cavalry attached to the French Army, escorting a group of German prisoners taken in fighting in the west of Belgium.
A Russian Cossack, in firing position, behind his horse, 1915.
Serbian artillery in action on the Salonika front in December of 1917.
A horse strapped and being lowered into position to be operated on for a gunshot wound by 1st LT Burgett. Le Valdahon, Doubs, France.
6th Australian light-horse regiment, marching in Sheikh Jarrah, on the way to Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, in 1918.
French cavalry horses swim across a river in northern France.
Dead horses and a broken cart on Menin Road, troops in the distance, Ypres sector, Belgium, in 1917. Horses meant power and agility, hauling weaponry, equipment, and personnel, and were targeted by enemy troops to weaken the other side — or were captured to be put in use by a different army.
War animals carrying war animals — at a carrier pigeon communication school at Namur, Belgium, a dispatch dog fitted with a pigeon basket for transporting carrier pigeons to the front line.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress / Bundesarchiv / Bibliotheque nationale de France / Text: Matthew Shaw).
Saved by a The Angels of Mons: a Miracle of God
Three soldiers were interviewed separately by the vicar of a church near Keswick, in the north of England. All agreed that a miracle had saved them from a massive German force about to overrun their unit. As the hard-pressed British troops prepared to fight to the end, the Germans suddenly recoiled. German prisoners explained that the attack was aborted because they saw strong British reinforcements coming up. In fact, the ground behind the British unit was empty. The men interviewed had no doubt who authored their salvation: “It was God did it,” they said.
One lance-corporal told his nurse of the appearance of angels during the Mons retreat. He could see, he said, “quite plainly in mid-air a strange light which seemed to be quite distinctly outlined and was not a reflection of the moon nor were there any clouds. The light became brighter and I could see quite distinctly three shapes, one in the center having what looked like outspread wings. The other two were not so large, but were quite plainly distinct from the center one. They were above the German line facing us. We stood watching them for about three-quarters of an hour. All the men with me saw them. I have a record of fifteen years’ good service, and I should be very sorry to make fool of myself by telling a story merely to please anyone.”
The soldier also told his story to another woman, a Red Cross hospital superintendent who interviewed the man and believed him implicitly. So did Harold Begbie, a writer on the supernatural, who related this tale in his 1916 book, On the Side of the Angels. Begbie was impressed with the soldier’s transparent honesty. Begbie also interviewed another soldier who spoke of a “bright light in the sky.” Still another told Begbie that he had heard men in France talking about the celestial apparitions. “He was,” Begbie wrote, “definitely conscious of a supernatural presence.” The soldier in question was a Grenadier Guards NCO, hardly a type given to hysteria and delusion.
Another tale was told of a Coldstream Guards unit lost in the gloom of early morning. One man saw a glow in the darkness, a glow that became the figure of a female angel, dressed in white, with a gold band around her hair. Gesturing to the tired guardsmen, she led them through the night to a sunken road, a way out of danger that Coldstream patrols had not been able to find—and afterwards could not find again on any map.
An Englishwoman nursing in France wrote of a wounded Lancashire Fusilier who asked her for a religious medal. Was he Catholic, she asked? No, he said, he was a Methodist, but he had seen St. George mounted on a white horse, leading the British into action against overwhelming odds. “The next minute,” he said, “comes this funny cloud of light, and when it clears off there’s a tall man with yellow hair, in golden armor on a white horse, holding his sword up, and his mouth open as if he was saying, ‘Come on, boys! I’ll put the kibosh on the devils.’ Then, before you could say ‘knife,’ the Germans had turned, and we were after them, fighting like ninety.”
Accounts of heavenly aid abounded in Britain. The magazine Light ran a story entitled “The Invisible Allies” in October 1914, and followed up another column the next April reporting that during the retreat from Mons several officers and men had seen a cloud appear between them and the Germans. The Catholic paper The Universe reported an account from a Catholic officer in which an isolated British party decided to charge the enemy head-on. Running into the open, somebody yelled, “St. George for England in the good old style,” and all around the British appeared a spectral company of archers. The British carried the German trench, and a German prisoner later asked the officer who the “officer on a great white horse” had been, for the German riflemen had not been able to hit him.
A fundamental principle of equine conformation is "form to function". Therefore, the type of horse used for various forms of warfare depended on the work performed, the weight a horse needed to carry or pull, and distance travelled.  Weight affects speed and endurance, creating a trade-off: armour added protection,  but added weight reduces maximum speed.  Therefore, various cultures had different military needs. In some situations, one primary type of horse was favoured over all others.  In other places, multiple types were needed warriors would travel to battle riding a lighter horse of greater speed and endurance, and then switch to a heavier horse, with greater weight-carrying capacity, when wearing heavy armour in actual combat. 
The average horse can carry up to approximately 30% of its body weight.  While all horses can pull more weight than they can carry, the maximum weight that horses can pull varies widely, depending on the build of the horse, the type of vehicle, road conditions, and other factors.    Horses harnessed to a wheeled vehicle on a paved road can pull as much as eight times their weight,  but far less if pulling wheelless loads over unpaved terrain.   Thus, horses that were driven varied in size and had to make a trade-off between speed and weight, just as did riding animals. Light horses could pull a small war chariot at speed.  Heavy supply wagons, artillery, and support vehicles were pulled by heavier horses or a larger number of horses.  The method by which a horse was hitched to a vehicle also mattered: horses could pull greater weight with a horse collar than they could with a breast collar, and even less with an ox yoke. 
Light, oriental horses such as the ancestors of the modern Arabian, Barb, and Akhal-Teke were used for warfare that required speed, endurance and agility.  Such horses ranged from about 12 hands (48 inches, 122 cm) to just under 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm), weighing approximately 360 to 450 kilograms (800 to 1,000 lb).  To move quickly, riders had to use lightweight tack and carry relatively light weapons such as bows, light spears, javelins, or, later, rifles. This was the original horse used for early chariot warfare, raiding, and light cavalry. 
Relatively light horses were used by many cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians,  the Mongols, the Arabs,  and the Native Americans. Throughout the Ancient Near East, small, light animals were used to pull chariots designed to carry no more than two passengers, a driver and a warrior.   In the European Middle Ages, a lightweight war horse became known as the rouncey. 
Medium-weight horses developed as early as the Iron Age with the needs of various civilizations to pull heavier loads, such as chariots capable of holding more than two people,  and, as light cavalry evolved into heavy cavalry, to carry heavily armoured riders.  The Scythians were among the earliest cultures to produce taller, heavier horses.  Larger horses were also needed to pull supply wagons and, later on, artillery pieces. In Europe, horses were also used to a limited extent to maneuver cannons on the battlefield as part of dedicated horse artillery units. Medium-weight horses had the greatest range in size, from about 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm) but stocky,   to as much as 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm),  weighing approximately 450 to 540 kilograms (1,000 to 1,200 lb). They generally were quite agile in combat,  though they did not have the raw speed or endurance of a lighter horse. By the Middle Ages, larger horses in this class were sometimes called destriers. They may have resembled modern Baroque or heavy warmblood breeds. [note 1] Later, horses similar to the modern warmblood often carried European cavalry. 
Large, heavy horses, weighing from 680 to 910 kilograms (1,500 to 2,000 lb), the ancestors of today's draught horses, were used, particularly in Europe, from the Middle Ages onward. They pulled heavy loads like supply wagons and were disposed to remain calm in battle. Some historians believe they may have carried the heaviest-armoured knights of the Late Medieval Period, though others dispute this claim, indicating that the destrier, or knight's battle horse, was a medium-weight animal. It is also disputed whether the destrier class included draught animals or not.  Breeds at the smaller end of the heavyweight category may have included the ancestors of the Percheron, agile for their size and physically able to manoeuvre in battle. 
The British Army's 2nd Dragoons in 1813 had 340 ponies of 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm) and 55 ponies of 14 hands (56 inches, 142 cm)  the Lovat Scouts, formed in 1899, were mounted on Highland ponies  the British Army recruited 200 Dales ponies in World War II for use as pack and artillery animals  and the British Territorial Army experimented with the use of Dartmoor ponies as pack animals in 1935, finding them to be better than mules for the job. 
Other equids Edit
Horses were not the only equids used to support human warfare. Donkeys have been used as pack animals from antiquity  to the present.  Mules were also commonly used, especially as pack animals and to pull wagons, but also occasionally for riding.  Because mules are often both calmer and hardier than horses,  they were particularly useful for strenuous support tasks, such as hauling supplies over difficult terrain. However, under gunfire, they were less cooperative than horses, so were generally not used to haul artillery on battlefields.  The size of a mule and work to which it was put depended largely on the breeding of the mare that produced the mule. Mules could be lightweight, medium weight, or even, when produced from draught horse mares, of moderate heavy weight. 
The oldest known manual on training horses for chariot warfare was written c. 1350 BC by the Hittite horsemaster, Kikkuli.  An ancient manual on the subject of training riding horses, particularly for the Ancient Greek cavalry is Hippike (On Horsemanship) written about 360 BC by the Greek cavalry officer Xenophon.  and another early text was that of Kautilya, written about 323 BC. 
Whether horses were trained to pull chariots, to be ridden as light or heavy cavalry, or to carry the armoured knight, much training was required to overcome the horse's natural instinct to flee from noise, the smell of blood, and the confusion of combat. They also learned to accept any sudden or unusual movements of humans while using a weapon or avoiding one.  Horses used in close combat may have been taught, or at least permitted, to kick, strike, and even bite, thus becoming weapons themselves for the warriors they carried. 
In most cultures, a war horse used as a riding animal was trained to be controlled with limited use of reins, responding primarily to the rider's legs and weight.  The horse became accustomed to any necessary tack and protective armour placed upon it, and learned to balance under a rider who would also be laden with weapons and armour.  Developing the balance and agility of the horse was crucial. The origins of the discipline of dressage came from the need to train horses to be both obedient and manoeuvrable.  The Haute ecole or "High School" movements of classical dressage taught today at the Spanish Riding School have their roots in manoeuvres designed for the battlefield. However, the airs above the ground were unlikely to have been used in actual combat, as most would have exposed the unprotected underbelly of the horse to the weapons of foot soldiers. 
Horses used for chariot warfare were not only trained for combat conditions, but because many chariots were pulled by a team of two to four horses, they also had to learn to work together with other animals in close quarters under chaotic conditions. 
Horses were probably ridden in prehistory before they were driven. However, evidence is scant, mostly simple images of human figures on horse-like animals drawn on rock or clay.   The earliest tools used to control horses were bridles of various sorts, which were invented nearly as soon as the horse was domesticated.  Evidence of bit wear appears on the teeth of horses excavated at the archaeology sites of the Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan, dated 3500–3000 BC. 
Harness and vehicles Edit
The invention of the wheel was a major technological innovation that gave rise to chariot warfare. At first, equines, both horses and onagers, were hitched to wheeled carts by means of a yoke around their necks in a manner similar to that of oxen.  However, such a design is incompatible with equine anatomy, limiting both the strength and mobility of the animal. By the time of the Hyksos invasions of Egypt, c. 1600 BC, horses were pulling chariots with an improved harness design that made use of a breastcollar and breeching, which allowed a horse to move faster and pull more weight. 
Even after the chariot had become obsolete as a tool of war, there still was a need for technological innovations in pulling technologies horses were needed to pull heavy loads of supplies and weapons. The invention of the horse collar in China during the 5th century AD (Northern and Southern dynasties) allowed horses to pull greater weight than they could when hitched to a vehicle with the ox yokes or breast collars used in earlier times.  The horse collar arrived in Europe during the 9th century,  and became widespread by the 12th century. 
Riding equipment Edit
Two major innovations that revolutionised the effectiveness of mounted warriors in battle were the saddle and the stirrup.  Riders quickly learned to pad their horse's backs to protect themselves from the horse's spine and withers, and fought on horseback for centuries with little more than a blanket or pad on the horse's back and a rudimentary bridle. To help distribute the rider's weight and protect the horse's back, some cultures created stuffed padding that resembles the panels of today's English saddle.  Both the Scythians and Assyrians used pads with added felt attached with a surcingle or girth around the horse's barrel for increased security and comfort.  Xenophon mentioned the use of a padded cloth on cavalry mounts as early as the 4th century BC. 
The saddle with a solid framework, or "tree", provided a bearing surface to protect the horse from the weight of the rider, but was not widespread until the 2nd century AD.  However, it made a critical difference, as horses could carry more weight when distributed across a solid saddle tree. A solid tree, the predecessor of today's Western saddle, also allowed a more built-up seat to give the rider greater security in the saddle. The Romans are credited with the invention of the solid-treed saddle. 
An invention that made cavalry particularly effective was the stirrup. A toe loop that held the big toe was used in India possibly as early as 500 BC,  and later a single stirrup was used as a mounting aid. The first set of paired stirrups appeared in China about 322 AD during the Jin Dynasty.   Following the invention of paired stirrups, which allowed a rider greater leverage with weapons, as well as both increased stability and mobility while mounted, nomadic groups such as the Mongols adopted this technology and developed a decisive military advantage.  By the 7th century, due primarily to invaders from Central Asia, stirrup technology spread from Asia to Europe.  The Avar invaders are viewed as primarily responsible for spreading the use of the stirrup into central Europe.   However, while stirrups were known in Europe in the 8th century, pictorial and literary references to their use date only from the 9th century.  Widespread use in Northern Europe, including England, is credited to the Vikings, who spread the stirrup in the 9th and 10th centuries to those areas.   
The first archaeological evidence of horses used in warfare dates from between 4000 and 3000 BC in the steppes of Eurasia, in what today is Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. Not long after domestication of the horse, people in these locations began to live together in large fortified towns for protection from the threat of horseback-riding raiders,  who could attack and escape faster than people of more sedentary cultures could follow.   Horse-mounted nomads of the steppe and current day Eastern Europe spread Indo-European Languages as they conquered other tribes and groups. 
The use of horses in organised warfare was documented early in recorded history. One of the first depictions is the "war panel" of the Standard of Ur, in Sumer, dated c. 2500 BC, showing horses (or possibly onagers or mules) pulling a four-wheeled wagon. 
Chariot warfare Edit
Among the earliest evidence of chariot use are the burials of horse and chariot remains by the Andronovo (Sintashta-Petrovka) culture in modern Russia and Kazakhstan, dated to approximately 2000 BC.  The oldest documentary evidence of what was probably chariot warfare in the Ancient Near East is the Old Hittite Anitta text, of the 18th century BC, which mentioned 40 teams of horses at the siege of Salatiwara.  The Hittites became well known throughout the ancient world for their prowess with the chariot. Widespread use of the chariot in warfare across most of Eurasia coincides approximately with the development of the composite bow, known from c. 1600 BC. Further improvements in wheels and axles, as well as innovations in weaponry, soon resulted in chariots being driven in battle by Bronze Age societies from China to Egypt. 
The Hyksos invaders brought the chariot to Ancient Egypt in the 16th century BC and the Egyptians adopted its use from that time forward.    The oldest preserved text related to the handling of war horses in the ancient world is the Hittite manual of Kikkuli, which dates to about 1350 BC, and describes the conditioning of chariot horses.  
Chariots existed in the Minoan civilization, as they were inventoried on storage lists from Knossos in Crete,  dating to around 1450 BC.  Chariots were also used in China as far back as the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1050 BC), where they appear in burials. The high point of chariot use in China was in the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BC), although they continued in use up until the 2nd century BC. 
Descriptions of the tactical role of chariots in Ancient Greece and Rome are rare. The Iliad, possibly referring to Mycenaen practices used c. 1250 BC, describes the use of chariots for transporting warriors to and from battle, rather than for actual fighting.   Later, Julius Caesar, invading Britain in 55 and 54 BC, noted British charioteers throwing javelins, then leaving their chariots to fight on foot.  
Some of the earliest examples of horses being ridden in warfare were horse-mounted archers or javelin-throwers, dating to the reigns of the Assyrian rulers Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III.  However, these riders sat far back on their horses, a precarious position for moving quickly, and the horses were held by a handler on the ground, keeping the archer free to use the bow. Thus, these archers were more a type of mounted infantry than true cavalry.  The Assyrians developed cavalry in response to invasions by nomadic people from the north, such as the Cimmerians, who entered Asia Minor in the 8th century BC and took over parts of Urartu during the reign of Sargon II, approximately 721 BC.  Mounted warriors such as the Scythians also had an influence on the region in the 7th century BC.  By the reign of Ashurbanipal in 669 BC, the Assyrians had learned to sit forward on their horses in the classic riding position still seen today and could be said to be true light cavalry.  The ancient Greeks used both light horse scouts and heavy cavalry,   although not extensively, possibly due to the cost of keeping horses. 
Heavy cavalry was believed to have been developed by the Ancient Persians,  although others argue for the Sarmatians.  By the time of Darius (558–486 BC), Persian military tactics required horses and riders that were completely armoured, and selectively bred a heavier, more muscled horse to carry the additional weight.  The cataphract was a type of heavily armoured cavalry with distinct tactics, armour, and weaponry used from the time of the Persians up until the Middle Ages. 
In Ancient Greece, Phillip of Macedon is credited with developing tactics allowing massed cavalry charges.  The most famous Greek heavy cavalry units were the companion cavalry of Alexander the Great.  The Chinese of the 4th century BC during the Warring States period (403–221 BC) began to use cavalry against rival states.  To fight nomadic raiders from the north and west, the Chinese of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) developed effective mounted units.  Cavalry was not used extensively by the Romans during the Roman Republic period, but by the time of the Roman Empire, they made use of heavy cavalry.   However, the backbone of the Roman army was the infantry. 
Horse artillery Edit
Once gunpowder was invented, another major use of horses was as draught animals for heavy artillery, or cannon. In addition to field artillery, where horse-drawn guns were attended by gunners on foot, many armies had artillery batteries where each gunner was provided with a mount.  Horse artillery units generally used lighter pieces, pulled by six horses. "9-pounders" were pulled by eight horses, and heavier artillery pieces needed a team of twelve. With the individual riding horses required for officers, surgeons and other support staff, as well as those pulling the artillery guns and supply wagons, an artillery battery of six guns could require 160 to 200 horses.  Horse artillery usually came under the command of cavalry divisions, but in some battles, such as Waterloo, the horse artillery were used as a rapid response force, repulsing attacks and assisting the infantry.  Agility was important the ideal artillery horse was 1.5 to 1.6 metres (15 to 16 hands) high, strongly built, but able to move quickly. 
Central Asia Edit
Relations between steppe nomads and the settled people in and around Central Asia were often marked by conflict.   The nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and steppe cavalry became some of the most militarily potent forces in the world, only limited by nomads' frequent lack of internal unity. Periodically, strong leaders would organise several tribes into one force, creating an almost unstoppable power.   These unified groups included the Huns, who invaded Europe,  and under Attila, conducted campaigns in both eastern France and northern Italy, over 500 miles apart, within two successive campaign seasons.  Other unified nomadic forces included the Wu Hu attacks on China,  and the Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia. 
The literature of ancient India describes numerous horse nomads. Some of the earliest references to the use of horses in South Asian warfare are Puranic texts, which refer to an attempted invasion of India by the joint cavalry forces of the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, and Paradas, called the "five hordes" (pañca.ganah) or "Kśatriya" hordes (Kśatriya ganah). About 1600 BC, they captured the throne of Ayodhya by dethroning the Vedic king, Bahu.  Later texts, such as the Mahābhārata, c. 950 BC, appear to recognise efforts taken to breed war horses and develop trained mounted warriors, stating that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were of the finest quality, and the Kambojas, Gandharas, and Yavanas were expert in fighting from horses.   
In technological innovation, the early toe loop stirrup is credited to the cultures of India, and may have been in use as early as 500 BC.  Not long after, the cultures of Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece clashed with those of central Asia and India. Herodotus (484–425 BC) wrote that Gandarian mercenaries of the Achaemenid Empire were recruited into the army of emperor Xerxes I of Persia (486–465 BC), which he led against the Greeks.  A century later, the "Men of the Mountain Land," from north of Kabul River, [note 2] served in the army of Darius III of Persia when he fought against Alexander the Great at Arbela in 331 BC.  In battle against Alexander at Massaga in 326 BC, the Assakenoi forces included 20,000 cavalry.  The Mudra-Rakshasa recounted how cavalry of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas, Parasikas, and Bahlikas helped Chandragupta Maurya (c. 320–298 BC) defeat the ruler of Magadha and take the throne, thus laying the foundations of Mauryan Dynasty in Northern India. 
Mughal cavalry used gunpowder weapons, but were slow to replace the traditional composite bow.  Under the impact of European military successes in India, some Indian rulers adopted the European system of massed cavalry charges, although others did not.  By the 18th century, Indian armies continued to field cavalry, but mainly of the heavy variety.
East Asia Edit
The Chinese used chariots for horse-based warfare until light cavalry forces became common during the Warring States era (402–221 BC). A major proponent of the change to riding horses from chariots was Wu Ling, c. 320 BC. However, conservative forces in China often opposed change, and cavalry never became as dominant as in Europe. Cavalry in China also did not benefit from the additional cachet attached to being the military branch dominated by the nobility. 
The Japanese samurai fought as cavalry for many centuries.  They were particularly skilled in the art of using archery from horseback. The archery skills of mounted samurai were developed by training such as Yabusame, which originated in 530 AD and reached its peak under Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199 AD) in the Kamakura period.  They switched from an emphasis on mounted bowmen to mounted spearmen during the Sengoku period (1467–1615 AD).
Middle East Edit
During the period when various Islamic empires controlled much of the Middle East as well as parts of West Africa and the Iberian peninsula, Muslim armies consisted mostly of cavalry, made up of fighters from various local groups, mercenaries and Turkoman tribesmen. The latter were considered particularly skilled as both lancers and archers from horseback. In the 9th century the use of Mamluks, slaves raised to be soldiers for various Muslim rulers, became increasingly common.  Mobile tactics, advanced breeding of horses, and detailed training manuals made Mamluk cavalry a highly efficient fighting force.  The use of armies consisting mostly of cavalry continued among the Turkish people who founded the Ottoman Empire. Their need for large mounted forces led to an establishment of the sipahi, cavalry soldiers who were granted lands in exchange for providing military service in times of war. 
Mounted Muslim warriors conquered North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula during the 7th and 8th centuries AD following the Hegira, or Hijra, of Muhammad in 622 AD. By 630 AD, their influence expanded across the Middle East and into western North Africa. By 711 AD, the light cavalry of Muslim warriors had reached Spain, and controlled most of the Iberian peninsula by 720.  Their mounts were of various oriental types, including the North African Barb. A few Arabian horses may have come with the Ummayads who settled in the Guadalquivir valley. Another strain of horse that came with Islamic invaders was the Turkoman horse.  Muslim invaders travelled north from present-day Spain into France, where they were defeated by the Frankish ruler Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD. 
Middle Ages Edit
During the European Middle Ages, there were three primary types of war horses: the destrier, the courser, and the rouncey, which differed in size and usage. A generic word used to describe medieval war horses was charger, which appears interchangeable with the other terms.  The medieval war horse was of moderate size, rarely exceeding 15.2 hands (62 inches, 157 cm). Heavy horses were logistically difficult to maintain and less adaptable to varied terrains.  The destrier of the early Middle Ages was moderately larger than the courser or rouncey, in part to accommodate heavier armoured knights.  However, destriers were not as large as draught horses, averaging between 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm) and 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm).  On the European continent, the need to carry more armour against mounted enemies such as the Lombards and Frisians led to the Franks developing heavier, bigger horses.  As the amount of armour and equipment increased in the later Middle Ages, the height of the horses increased some late medieval horse skeletons were of horses over 1.5 metres (15 hands). 
Stallions were often used as destriers due to their natural aggression.  However, there may have been some use of mares by European warriors,  and mares, who were quieter and less likely to call out and betray their position to the enemy, were the preferred war horse of the Moors, who invaded various parts of Southern Europe from 700 AD through the 15th century.  Geldings were used in war by the Teutonic Knights, and known as "monk horses" (German Mönchpferde or Mönchhengste). One advantage was if captured by the enemy, they could not be used to improve local bloodstock, thus maintaining the Knights' superiority in horseflesh. 
The heavy cavalry charge, while it could be effective, was not a common occurrence.  Battles were rarely fought on land suitable for heavy cavalry. While mounted riders remained effective for initial attacks,  by the end of the 14th century, it was common for knights to dismount to fight,  while their horses were sent to the rear, kept ready for pursuit.  Pitched battles were avoided if possible, with most offensive warfare in the early Middle Ages taking the form of sieges,  and in the later Middle Ages as mounted raids called chevauchées, with lightly armed warriors on swift horses. [note 3]
The war horse was also seen in hastiludes – martial war games such as the joust, which began in the 11th century both as sport and to provide training for battle.  Specialised destriers were bred for the purpose,  although the expense of keeping, training, and outfitting them kept the majority of the population from owning one.  While some historians suggest that the tournament had become a theatrical event by the 15th and 16th centuries, others argue that jousting continued to help cavalry train for battle until the Thirty Years' War. 
The decline of the armoured knight was probably linked to changing structures of armies and various economic factors, and not obsolescence due to new technologies. However, some historians attribute the demise of the knight to the invention of gunpowder,  or to the English longbow.  Some link the decline to both technologies.  Others argue these technologies actually contributed to the development of knights: plate armour was first developed to resist early medieval crossbow bolts,  and the full harness worn by the early 15th century developed to resist longbow arrows.  From the 14th century onwards, most plate was made from hardened steel, which resisted early musket ammunition.  In addition, stronger designs did not make plate heavier a full harness of musket-proof plate from the 17th century weighed 70 pounds (32 kg), significantly less than 16th century tournament armour. 
The move to predominately infantry-based battles from 1300 to 1550 was linked to both improved infantry tactics and changes in weaponry.  By the 16th century, the concept of a combined-arms professional army had spread throughout Europe.  Professional armies emphasized training, and were paid via contracts, a change from the ransom and pillaging which reimbursed knights in the past. When coupled with the rising costs involved in outfitting and maintaining armour and horses, the traditional knightly classes began to abandon their profession.  Light horses, or prickers, were still used for scouting and reconnaissance they also provided a defensive screen for marching armies.  Large teams of draught horses or oxen pulled the heavy early cannon.  Other horses pulled wagons and carried supplies for the armies.
Early modern period Edit
During the early modern period the shift continued from heavy cavalry and the armoured knight to unarmoured light cavalry, including Hussars and Chasseurs à cheval.  Light cavalry facilitated better communication, using fast, agile horses to move quickly across battlefields.  The ratio of footmen to horsemen also increased over the period as infantry weapons improved and footmen became more mobile and versatile, particularly once the musket bayonet replaced the more cumbersome pike.  During the Elizabethan era, mounted units included cuirassiers, heavily armoured and equipped with lances light cavalry, who wore mail and bore light lances and pistols and "petronels", who carried an early carbine.  As heavy cavalry use declined armour was increasingly abandoned and dragoons, whose horses were rarely used in combat, became more common: mounted infantry provided reconnaissance, escort and security.  However, many generals still used the heavy mounted charge, from the late 17th century and early 18th century, where sword-wielding wedge-formation shock troops penetrated enemy lines,  to the early 19th century, where armoured heavy cuirassiers were employed. 
Light cavalry continued to play a major role, particularly after the Seven Years' War when Hussars started to play a larger part in battles.  Though some leaders preferred tall horses for their mounted troops this was as much for prestige as for increased shock ability and many troops used more typical horses, averaging 15 hands.  Cavalry tactics altered with fewer mounted charges, more reliance on drilled manoeuvres at the trot, and use of firearms once within range.  Ever-more elaborate movements, such as wheeling and caracole, were developed to facilitate the use of firearms from horseback. These tactics were not greatly successful in battle since pikemen protected by musketeers could deny cavalry room to manoeuvre. However the advanced equestrianism required survives into the modern world as dressage.   While restricted, cavalry was not rendered obsolete. As infantry formations developed in tactics and skills, artillery became essential to break formations in turn, cavalry was required to both combat enemy artillery, which was susceptible to cavalry while deploying, and to charge enemy infantry formations broken by artillery fire. Thus, successful warfare depended in a balance of the three arms: cavalry, artillery and infantry. 
As regimental structures developed many units selected horses of uniform type and some, such as the Royal Scots Greys, even specified colour. Trumpeters often rode distinctive horses so they stood out. Regional armies developed type preferences, such as British hunters, Hanoverians in central Europe, and steppe ponies of the Cossacks, but once in the field, the lack of supplies typical of wartime meant that horses of all types were used.  Since horses were such a vital component of most armies in early modern Europe, many instituted state stud farms to breed horses for the military. However, in wartime, supply rarely matched the demand, resulting in some cavalry troops fighting on foot. 
19th century Edit
In the 19th century distinctions between heavy and light cavalry became less significant by the end of the Peninsular War, heavy cavalry were performing the scouting and outpost duties previously undertaken by light cavalry, and by the end of the 19th century the roles had effectively merged.  Most armies at the time preferred cavalry horses to stand 15.2 hands (62 inches, 157 cm) and weigh 990 to 1,100 pounds (450 to 500 kg), although cuirassiers frequently had heavier horses. Lighter horses were used for scouting and raiding. Cavalry horses were generally obtained at 5 years of age and were in service from 10 to 12 years, barring loss. However losses of 30–40% were common during a campaign due to conditions of the march as well as enemy action.  Mares and geldings were preferred over less-easily managed stallions. 
During the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars the cavalry's main offensive role was as shock troops. In defence cavalry were used to attack and harass the enemy's infantry flanks as they advanced. Cavalry were frequently used prior to an infantry assault, to force an infantry line to break and reform into formations vulnerable to infantry or artillery.  Infantry frequently followed behind in order to secure any ground won  or the cavalry could be used to break up enemy lines following a successful infantry action.
Mounted charges were carefully managed. A charge's maximum speed was 20 km/h moving faster resulted in a break in formation and fatigued horses. Charges occurred across clear rising ground, and were effective against infantry both on the march and when deployed in a line or column.  A foot battalion formed in line was vulnerable to cavalry, and could be broken or destroyed by a well-formed charge.  Traditional cavalry functions altered by the end of the 19th century. Many cavalry units transferred in title and role to "mounted rifles": troops trained to fight on foot, but retaining mounts for rapid deployment, as well as for patrols, scouting, communications, and defensive screening. These troops differed from mounted infantry, who used horses for transport but did not perform the old cavalry roles of reconnaissance and support. 
Horses were used for warfare in the central Sudan since the 9th century, where they were considered "the most precious commodity following the slave."  The first conclusive evidence of horses playing a major role in the warfare of West Africa dates to the 11th century when the region was controlled by the Almoravids, a Muslim Berber dynasty.  During the 13th and 14th centuries, cavalry became an important factor in the area. This coincided with the introduction of larger breeds of horse and the widespread adoption of saddles and stirrups.  Increased mobility played a part in the formation of new power centers, such as the Oyo Empire in what today is Nigeria. The authority of many African Islamic states such as the Bornu Empire also rested in large part on their ability to subject neighboring peoples with cavalry.  Despite harsh climate conditions, endemic diseases such as trypanosomiasis, the African horse sickness, and unsuitable terrain that limited the effectiveness of horses in many parts of Africa, horses were continuously imported and were, in some areas, a vital instrument of war.  The introduction of horses also intensified existing conflicts, such as those between the Herero and Nama people in Namibia during the 19th century. 
The African slave trade was closely tied to the imports of war horses, and as the prevalence of slaving decreased, fewer horses were needed for raiding. This significantly decreased the amount of mounted warfare seen in West Africa.  By the time of the Scramble for Africa and the introduction of modern firearms in the 1880s, the use of horses in African warfare had lost most of its effectiveness.  Nonetheless, in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899–1902), cavalry and other mounted troops were the major combat force for the British, since the horse-mounted Boers moved too quickly for infantry to engage.  The Boers presented a mobile and innovative approach to warfare, drawing on strategies that had first appeared in the American Civil War.  The terrain was not well-suited to the British horses, resulting in the loss of over 300,000 animals. As the campaign wore on, losses were replaced by more durable African Basuto ponies, and Waler horses from Australia. 
The horse had been extinct in the Western Hemisphere for approximately 10,000 years prior to the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors in the early 16th century. Consequently, the Indigenous peoples of the Americas had no warfare technologies that could overcome the considerable advantage provided by European horses and gunpowder weapons. In particular this resulted in the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires.  The speed and increased impact of cavalry contributed to a number of early victories by European fighters in open terrain, though their success was limited in more mountainous regions.  The Incas' well-maintained roads in the Andes enabled quick mounted raids, such as those undertaken by the Spanish while resisting the siege of Cuzco in 1536–37. 
Indigenous populations of South America soon learned to use horses. In Chile, the Mapuche began using cavalry in the Arauco War in 1586. They drove the Spanish out of Araucanía at the beginning of the 17th century. Later, the Mapuche conducted mounted raids known as Malónes, first on Spanish, then on Chilean and Argentine settlements until well into the 19th century.  In North America, Native Americans also quickly learned to use horses. In particular, the people of the Great Plains, such as the Comanche and the Cheyenne, became renowned horseback fighters. By the 19th century, they presented a formidable force against the United States Army. 
During the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the Continental Army made relatively little use of cavalry, primarily relying on infantry and a few dragoon regiments.  The United States Congress eventually authorized regiments specifically designated as cavalry in 1855. The newly formed American cavalry adopted tactics based on experiences fighting over vast distances during the Mexican War (1846–1848) and against indigenous peoples on the western frontier, abandoning some European traditions. 
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), cavalry held the most important and respected role it would ever hold in the American military.  [note 4] Field artillery in the American Civil War was also highly mobile. Both horses and mules pulled the guns, though only horses were used on the battlefield.  At the beginning of the war, most of the experienced cavalry officers were from the South and thus joined the Confederacy, leading to the Confederate Army's initial battlefield superiority.  The tide turned at the 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, part of the Gettysburg campaign, where the Union cavalry, in the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the American continent, [note 5] ended the dominance of the South.  By 1865, Union cavalry were decisive in achieving victory.  So important were horses to individual soldiers that the surrender terms at Appomattox allowed every Confederate cavalryman to take his horse home with him. This was because, unlike their Union counterparts, Confederate cavalrymen provided their own horses for service instead of drawing them from the government. 
Although cavalry was used extensively throughout the world during the 19th century, horses became less important in warfare at the beginning of the 20th century. Light cavalry was still seen on the battlefield, but formal mounted cavalry began to be phased out for combat during and immediately after World War I, although units that included horses still had military uses well into World War II. 
World War I Edit
World War I saw great changes in the use of cavalry. The mode of warfare changed, and the use of trench warfare, barbed wire and machine guns rendered traditional cavalry almost obsolete. Tanks, introduced in 1917, began to take over the role of shock combat. 
Early in the War, cavalry skirmishes were common, and horse-mounted troops widely used for reconnaissance.  On the Western Front cavalry were an effective flanking force during the "Race to the Sea" in 1914, but were less useful once trench warfare was established.   There a few examples of successful shock combat, and cavalry divisions also provided important mobile firepower.  Cavalry played a greater role on the Eastern Front, where trench warfare was less common.  On the Eastern Front, and also against the Ottomans, the "cavalry was literally indispensable."  British Empire cavalry proved adaptable, since they were trained to fight both on foot and while mounted, while other European cavalry relied primarily on shock action. 
On both fronts, the horse was also used as a pack animal. Because railway lines could not withstand artillery bombardments, horses carried ammunition and supplies between the railheads and the rear trenches, though the horses generally were not used in the actual trench zone.  This role of horses was critical, and thus horse fodder was the single largest commodity shipped to the front by some countries.  Following the war, many cavalry regiments were converted to mechanised, armoured divisions, with light tanks developed to perform many of the cavalry's original roles. 
World War II Edit
Several nations used horse units during World War II. The Polish army used mounted infantry to defend against the armies of Nazi Germany during the 1939 invasion.  Both the Germans and the Soviet Union maintained cavalry units throughout the war,  particularly on the Eastern Front.  The British Army used horses early in the war, and the final British cavalry charge was on March 21, 1942, when the Burma Frontier Force encountered Japanese infantry in central Burma.  The only American cavalry unit during World War II was the 26th Cavalry. They challenged the Japanese invaders of Luzon, holding off armoured and infantry regiments during the invasion of the Philippines, repelled a unit of tanks in Binalonan, and successfully held ground for the Allied armies' retreat to Bataan. 
Throughout the war, horses and mules were an essential form of transport, especially by the British in the rough terrain of Southern Europe and the Middle East.  The United States Army utilised a few cavalry and supply units during the war, but there were concerns that the Americans did not use horses often enough. In the campaigns in North Africa, generals such as George S. Patton lamented their lack, saying, "had we possessed an American cavalry division with pack artillery in Tunisia and in Sicily, not a German would have escaped." 
The German and the Soviet armies used horses until the end of the war for transportation of troops and supplies. The German Army, strapped for motorised transport because its factories were needed to produce tanks and aircraft, used around 2.75 million horses – more than it had used in World War I.  One German infantry division in Normandy in 1944 had 5,000 horses.  The Soviets used 3.5 million horses. 
While many statues and memorials have been erected to human heroes of war, often shown with horses, a few have also been created specifically to honor horses or animals in general. One example is the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.  Both horses and mules are honored in the Animals in War Memorial in London's Hyde Park. 
Horses have also at times received medals for extraordinary deeds. After the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, a surviving horse named Drummer Boy, ridden by an officer of the 8th Hussars, was given an unofficial campaign medal by his rider that was identical to those awarded to British troops who served in the Crimea, engraved with the horse's name and an inscription of his service.  A more formal award was the PDSA Dickin Medal, an animals' equivalent of the Victoria Cross, awarded by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals charity in the United Kingdom to three horses that served in World War II. 
Today, many of the historical military uses of the horse have evolved into peacetime applications, including exhibitions, historical reenactments, work of peace officers, and competitive events. Formal combat units of mounted cavalry are mostly a thing of the past, with horseback units within the modern military used for reconnaissance, ceremonial, or crowd control purposes. With the rise of mechanised technology, horses in formal national militias were displaced by tanks and armored fighting vehicles, often still referred to as "cavalry". 
Active military Edit
Organised armed fighters on horseback are occasionally seen. The best-known current examples are the Janjaweed, militia groups seen in the Darfur region of Sudan, who became notorious for their attacks upon unarmed civilian populations in the Darfur conflict.  Many nations still maintain small numbers of mounted military units for certain types of patrol and reconnaissance duties in extremely rugged terrain, including the conflict in Afghanistan. 
At the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operational Detachment Alpha 595 teams were covertly inserted into Afghanistan on October 19, 2001.  Horses were the only suitable method of transport in the difficult mountainous terrain of Northern Afghanistan.  They were the first U.S. soldiers to ride horses into battle since January 16, 1942, when the U.S. Army’s 26th Cavalry Regiment charged an advanced guard of the 14th Japanese Army as it advanced from Manila.   
The only remaining operationally ready, fully horse-mounted regular regiment in the world is the Indian Army's 61st Cavalry. 
Law enforcement and public safety Edit
Mounted police have been used since the 18th century, and still are used worldwide to control traffic and crowds, patrol public parks, keep order in processionals and during ceremonies and perform general street patrol duties. Today, many cities still have mounted police units. In rural areas, horses are used by law enforcement for mounted patrols over rugged terrain, crowd control at religious shrines, and border patrol. 
In rural areas, law enforcement that operates outside of incorporated cities may also have mounted units. These include specially deputised, paid or volunteer mounted search and rescue units sent into roadless areas on horseback to locate missing people.  Law enforcement in protected areas may use horses in places where mechanised transport is difficult or prohibited. Horses can be an essential part of an overall team effort as they can move faster on the ground than a human on foot, can transport heavy equipment, and provide a more rested rescue worker when a subject is found. 
Ceremonial and educational uses Edit
Many countries throughout the world maintain traditionally trained and historically uniformed cavalry units for ceremonial, exhibition, or educational purposes. One example is the Horse Cavalry Detachment of the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division.  This unit of active duty soldiers approximates the weapons, tools, equipment and techniques used by the United States Cavalry in the 1880s.  It is seen at change of command ceremonies and other public appearances.  A similar detachment is the Governor General's Horse Guards, Canada's Household Cavalry regiment, the last remaining mounted cavalry unit in the Canadian Forces.   Nepal's King's Household Cavalry is a ceremonial unit with over 100 horses and is the remainder of the Nepalese cavalry that existed since the 19th century.  An important ceremonial use is in military funerals, which often have a caparisoned horse as part of the procession, "to symbolize that the warrior will never ride again". 
Horses are also used in many historical reenactments.  Reenactors try to recreate the conditions of the battle or tournament with equipment that is as authentic as possible. 
Equestrian sport Edit
Modern-day Olympic equestrian events are rooted in cavalry skills and classical horsemanship.  The first equestrian events at the Olympics were introduced in 1912, and through 1948, competition was restricted to active-duty officers on military horses.  Only after 1952, as mechanisation of warfare reduced the number of military riders, were civilian riders allowed to compete.   Dressage traces its origins to Xenophon and his works on cavalry training methods, developing further during the Renaissance in response to a need for different tactics in battles where firearms were used.  The three-phase competition known as Eventing developed out of cavalry officers' needs for versatile, well-schooled horses.  Though show jumping developed largely from fox hunting, the cavalry considered jumping to be good training for their horses,  and leaders in the development of modern riding techniques over fences, such as Federico Caprilli, came from military ranks.  Beyond the Olympic disciplines are other events with military roots. Competitions with weapons, such as mounted shooting and tent pegging, test the combat skills of mounted riders. 
Why were some animals so important during World War One?
During the war, millions of horses were used in many different roles. Cavalry horses used in the first battles but both sides soon realised men on horses could not win the war in the trenches. The muddy ground, barbed wire and machine guns made it very difficult for horses, so they were used for transportation instead. In total, around 8 million horses from all sides died during the war. Donkeys and mules were sometimes used to pull heavy equipment, including artillery. Even elephants were taken from circuses and zoos to pull heavy guns. Dogs were some of the hardest and most trusted workers in World War One. These dogs stayed with one soldier or guard and were taught to give a warning sound such as growling or barking when they sensed a stranger in the area or close to camp or carried medical equipment so an injured soldier could treat himself on No Man’s Land. They would also stay beside a dying soldier to keep him company. Dogs also helped to get messages across the front line from one base to another. Over 100,000 carrier pigeons were also used to get messages from one military base to another.
The children might research and write about other celebrated animals who have help in difficult times including the many anonymous horses, pigeons, ponies, donkeys and dogs put to work on the front line. These could also be remembered as part of Remembrance assemblies, activities or services taking part in the school. A display celebrating the many unsung animal heroes of the Great War could be created.
The day the Army unsaddled its last horse
A town kid who had to learn to ride a horse, John Dvergsten, left, and a friend relax in the Black Hills of South Dakota while stationed with the 4th Cavalry in 1941. (Photo: Photo courtesy David Dvergsten)
Most people think it wasn’t too long after George Custer bought the farm at Little Big Horn that the Army traded its horses for more modern transportation.
But it was actually nearly 66 years later on a blustery day in April 1942 on a treeless prairie near Crawford, Neb., that the remaining 500 U.S. horse cavalry soldiers dismounted for the final time.
I know because my late friend John Dvergsten was one of them.
Three days earlier, John had been riding down the streets of Omaha as a crowd of 60,000 wildly cheered the mounted troops of the 4th Calvary in their final public parade appearance. Then at Crawford, he and his fellow horse soldiers cantered in review for the last time, dismounted, unsaddled their steeds and turned them in for the Army to sell at auction.
“Some of those old cavalry guys just cried and cried, because they had grown so attached to their horses and that’s all they knew,” John told me.
“I couldn’t wait to get rid of my old goat,” he quipped, but family members said he secretly became attached to Bomber, the horse he was first assigned.
The comment was typical of this longtime Storm Lake business leader well known for his engaging stories and razor-sharp sense of humor when our family lived there.
John, you see, grew up working in his father’s general store prior to being selected in 1941 as the first draftee from Chippewa County, Minn., after the nation plunged into World War II. He says he quickly learned that this unique mounted infantry unit he was assigned to at Fort Mead, S.D., “was not strictly for show.”
In the final months of their service, members of the 4th Cavalry ride in close formation on the snowy plains of South Dakota. (Photo: Photo courtesy David Dvergsten)
Believe it or not, horse soldiers were still being trained to slip behind enemy lines for scouting and harassment.
“Of course they didn’t have all-terrain vehicles at the time,” John said. “With horses, you could cross streams, climb mountains — go anywhere.”
Some cavalry units even carried machine guns on horseback.
“I remember demonstrations of how you’d ride up fast, stop, jump off and set the thing up,” he told me.
Although he was a town kid among horse-savvy Midwest farm boys, John said he “did OK, but it wasn’t easy. These horses were not what you would call ‘well-broke’ when we got them.”
His equine career was short-lived. Word soon filtered down from the brass that the horses would have to go. It would be the end of a proud institution in the U.S. military that had clung to tradition well into the 20th century in spite of the invention of tanks and jeeps.
At the historic final parade in Omaha, the cavalry trotted through the city in precision columns, riding animals matched in color according to their troop. “The horse platoon stole the show,” wrote the Omaha World-Herald.
John served his country well after dismounting. He was sent to the European Theatre of the war and eventually promoted to the rank of captain.
He may not have liked horses that much, but he was a tireless organizer, and in the late 1980s he decided the cavalry should ride once again.
Forty-seven years after the unit was disbanded, John convinced 200 old-time cavalry members to return to Omaha and mount horses for a reunion and another parade appearance. By then, most of the guys were 65 to 70 years old.
“It was pure fun,” he told me later, back in Storm Lake. “We even had our bugler. I told him to ‘blow that sucker,’ so he raised it up and blew one note — and a couple of the horses spooked and that was the end of the bugling.”
For some of the old timers, it was the first return to the saddle since 1942.
“Seasoned horsemen? Ha!” John laughed. “We heard one of the guys saying ‘Whoa horsey! Nice horsey!’”
John remained a wonderful character in Storm Lake until his death seven years ago at age 93. His stories, like this one, live on.