Allenby, a Study in Greatness: The Biography of Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe, G.C.B., G.C.M.G

By Archibald Wavell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE CAVALRY IN FRANCE (August 1914-May 1915)

I
MOBILIZATION AND ENGAGEMENT (August 4-24, 1914)

THE Great War saw the virtual passing from the battlefield of the cavalry arm, though not, it is hoped, of the cavalry spirit, which will still find expression in controlling and exploiting the mobility of armoured vehicles. The fighting power of men on horses, who have dominated war or taken an important share in it since the days of Alexander of Macedon, has -- fortunately for the horse -- practically vanished in face of modern weapons. Alexander was the first great commander to show how battles and campaigns could be won by the speed and endurance of horses and the boldness given to their riders by that speed. The exploits of Allenby's mounted men in Palestine, twenty-two and a half centuries later, are likely to be recorded as the last decisive successes of cavalry dependent on horses, and Allenby himself as the last great cavalry general. From Alexander to Allenby may be the title of some future history of the horsed cavalry arm. Yet it is alleged that Allenby failed as a leader of cavalry in 1914, that his Cavalry Division did not cover the British retreat as it should have done, that he lost control of it at the most critical moment, and that it missed its opportunity in pursuit when the Germans in their turn retreated from the Marne. To refute or uphold these accusations it is necessary to examine closely the conditions in which the cavalry had to work, the orders Allenby received, and the human and personal circumstances of the opening stages of the conflict. Man adapts himself rapidly even to the shocks of a world war; but the atmosphere

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