The Light Horse in France – 1916-1918

Matt Walsh

Table of content

Topic Genesis The Australian Horse The uniform of the 1st Australian Horse Formation Tactics The Hotchkiss Medium Machine Gun- anti- aircraft use Deployment- World War I Casualties Honours and Awards Battle Honours • Fromelles • Baupaume • Prussian Uhlans (Lancers) • Bullecourt • Ypres – Hill 60 • Passchendale Aftermath

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This booklet is an initiative of the Defence Reserves Association (NSW) Inc. and the Military Police Association of Australia Inc. as part of their Schools Military History Program.

Written and compiled by Matt Walsh JP. MLO ALGA (MCAE) Dip. Bus & Corp Law (CPS). © 2008 Published by Matt Walsh 115 Leacocks Lane Casula 2170 Australia.

The Light Horse in France

Genesis The use of horses by the Australian Military can be traced back to Units formed in 1885 when a number of ‘Volunteer Units’ were raised:• • • The Sydney Light Horse The Campbelltown Mounted Infantry The West Camden Light Horse.

In 1891 a Cavalry Corps known as “K” Troop was formed at Parramatta and in 1893 a half Squadron of the New South Wales Lancers stationed at Parramatta was formed.

Sergeant New South Wales Lancers

By 1892 the Mounted Volunteer Units which had been formed in 1885 had become Mounted Infantry or Light Horse many seeing service in the Boer War. The Australian Horse In 1897 permission was given to establish a Regiment of Australian Horse. In April 1898 at “Milkman’s Hill” in the Sydney suburb of Rookwood the first camp of the 1st Australian (Volunteer) Horse took place. By noon on the first day about 400 men and horses were at the camp site. They were issued with their Myrtle Green Uniforms they were also issued with frogs, carbine buckets and swords. The unit was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.A. Kenneth Mackay and his Adjutant was 2nd Lt P.R. Thompson 34 Officers and men of the 1st Australian Horse volunteered to serve in the Boer War. Sergeant major Griffin of the 1st Australian Horse was the first Australian to fall in the service of the Empire.

-1The 1 Australian Horse was the first unit to adopt the “Slouch Hat’ as part of their uniform.

The Uniform of the 1st Australian Horse

In 1902 the 5th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse was formed Formation The Australian Light Horse was established from the colonial regiments when the Australian Military Forces were reorganised following the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Defence Act of 1903. Those behind the formation of the new Corps had recently returned from service in the Boer War They were well aware of the changes in battlefield technology was limiting the use of cavalry. The could see that it was no longer practical for mounted troops to approach within 50 metres of the enemy with out the possibility of being killed or wounded. This situation had come about due to the use of smokeless gunpowder which meant that a volley of shots no longer left the battlefield covered in a cloud of smoke which enabled mounted troops to burst on their enemy from less than five metres away and therefore making the sword an effective weapon, nor was it necessary for the infantry to form a square so easily broken by the length of the lance. In fact the tables had turned and a line of men mounted high on the back of a horse made a easy target for a machine gunners line of fire. Tactics However, at this time mechanisation was still in its infancy, the horse was still useful and could provide mobility for troops. Horses were able to deliver troops quickly to the point of battle with their rider still fresh and ready to fight. The use of the horse for quick attacks and withdrawal was still an important factor of any offensive. The Light Horse Trooper was armed with .303 rifles, which was also the standard infantry weapon their packs were carried on their horse which enabled them to carry more ammunition strung in bandoliers across their chest.


The horses were able to carry heavier machine guns than their infantry counterpart together with more ammunition. The weapon used was the Hotchkiss Medium Machine Gun which could also be use as an effective anti-aircraft gun.

Deployment World War I Whilst the 13th Light Horse Regiment was dispatched to Gallipoli they were used as ‘dismounted infantry’ as the terrain on Gallipoli was not suitable for horses. On leaving Gallipoli in December 1915 the men of the Light Horse Regiments were again joined by their horses in Palestine and France as the terrain in these areas was very suitable for the Light Horse. The Australian Light Horse Regiments were used to replace the British Cavalry Units in the role of ‘Traffic Control- escorting POWs and work parties. In France the members of the Light Horse were issued with steel helmets and gas masks for themselves and their horses.

Australian Light Horsemen – France -3-

Casualties When their casualties were compared to that of the infantry they were light. • • 13th Light Horse Regiment – 57 Killed in Action 328 wounded II Anzac Corps- Mounted Regiment – 45 Killed in Action 126 wounded

Honours and Awards 11th Anzac Mounted Regiment- 3 Military Crosses (MC) – 1 Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) 6 Mentioned in Dispatches (MID) – 2 Meritorious Service Medals (MSM) and 5 Foreign Awards. 13th Light Horse Regiment- 2 Distinguished Service Orders (DSO)- 5 Military Crosses (MC)- 1 Bar* *(the awarding of a Bar to an Award signifies that the person has been the Award for a second time) – 3 Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCM) – 30 Military Medals (MM) – 4 Meritorious Service Medals (MSM)10 Mentioned in Dispatches (MID)- 5 Foreign Awards. Battle Honours Fromelles (July 1916) –in support of the 5th Division:• 2nd Anzac Mounted Regiment • 4th Light Horse Regiment Baupaume (March 1917) It was during the advance to Baupaume that the only recorded engagement between Australian and German Mounted Troops took place. The Australians were armed with Rifles and Bayonets and the Germans (Prussian Uhlans Lancers) with Lances and Sabres .


Bullecourt Bullecourt was the first time Light Horse and Tanks were engaged in the same battle- the Tanks were a failure and thanks to a common sense decision the Light Horse were not used in Lieu and so they were saved from destruction. Bullecourt saw the role of the “Gallopers” introduced as a function undertaken by members of the Light Horse Regiments. Gallopers were very experienced Light Horsemen who acted as Dispatch Riders. The roles required great skill between the rider and his horse- due to the terrain the rider needed to be able to hold his nerve and the horse needed to be allowed to choose its footing on the broken ground-“to gallop” would have been suicidal- so the term ‘Gallopers’ was a misnomer. Ypres (Hill 60) During the Battle for Ypres particularly Hill 60 the Light Horse Machine Gunners were used in an antiaircraft role they also deployed to support the infantry.

Passchendale The Light Horse was involved at Passchendale and conducted Traffic Control duties on the Menin Road. They were also involved in the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux moving on from Villers-Bretonneux they took part in the attack on Mt. St. Quentin. Right through the offensives leading up to the breaking of the Hindenberg Line the Light Horse was an important part of the action. The last Light Horse Unit deployed on the Western Front was the 4th Light Horse Regiment under the command of Major T. William DSO. Aftermath Whilst the horses of the Light Horse used in the Middle East and France were unable to be returned to Australia, those in France were auctioned to the French farmers to replace their own horses lost during the war. Unlike those in the Middle East who were shot by their owners rather than be left to the mistreatment they would receive if left in the Middle East. -5-

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