Beers & Sheilas
November 1, 2007 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Today marks 90 years since one of the last successful cavalry charges of modern warfare - carried out by the Australian Light Horse. The charge was recently reenacted.

Some say the Australians were so keen to take the desert outpost because the thirsty troops misheard the town's name as Beers and Sheilas.

More on 20th century cavalry, site gets a little weird in a extreme-right-wing-gun-nut kinda way.

The movie The Lighthorsemen attempts the story.
posted by mattoxic (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Funny, but your first link claims it wasn't a cavalry charge at all, but a Light Infantry charge.
posted by tommasz at 5:29 AM on November 1, 2007

Too true tommasz. There was/is debate as to whether the light horse were an infantry unit or cavalry. They were meant to ride close to the engagement, dismount and get massacred by enemy machine guns. The Gallipoli campaign saw the light horse fight as infantry- and get massacred by enemy machine guns.
posted by mattoxic at 5:33 AM on November 1, 2007

The Battle of Zamość, aka Komarów, on August 31, 1920, was "the last great battle of any significance in which cavalry was used as such and not as mounted infantry." (The Polish-Russian War of 1920 is one of those minor wars that have been forgotten in all the hoopla about the big ones; in fact, the entire almost 400-year-long history of Polish-Russian rivalry, dating back to the first Polish-Russian War, in which the Poles occupied Moscow, has been forgotten by everyone except the Poles and the Russians.)
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on November 1, 2007

I'm totally confused.

The Australian Light Horse Link says:

All Australian mounted units were Light Horse, there is no record of Mounted Infantry units being raised.

No record of Mounted Infantry.

But the first link says:

Far from being the Last Great cavalry Charge in history it is (probably) the ONLY Great Mounted Infantry charge in history.

So what was it? A mounted infantry or light horse brigade?
posted by three blind mice at 6:47 AM on November 1, 2007

Indeed, languagehat. My grandfather, who was forcibly conscripted into the Russian army, would never go back to visit Poland even though other of my family did. To say there was some ill will there is an understatement.

Of course, when he left Poland in 1912, it was via a "Russian" port and he was considered a Russian citizen. I'm sure that didn't help.

And now. back to the topic!
posted by tommasz at 6:48 AM on November 1, 2007

I think the confusion in terminology stems from a definition of 'cavalry'. IIRC, some militaries made a distinction between cavalry, which were to attack by shock action with either lance and saber, or mounted infantry (sometimes dragoons), who were infantry mounted on horses who were intended to dismount to fight.

It is possible that the unit, while being called 'Light Horse', was actually mounted infantry, in that its men were equipped with rifles and were intended to fight dismounted.

Hence BOTH!
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:14 AM on November 1, 2007

Cavalry featured quite prominently in the Muslim armies in northwest China in the 1920s if I recall correctly. I think they did for Zhang Guotao and the Fourth Red Army in the 1930s too. Not sure if any of the fighting constituted a major battle, but he certainly left with a major force and came back several thousand shorter. Seems to mention some here. I think it was Hui warlord Ma Bufang who employed cavalry still.
Didn't the Ethiopians employ cavalry against the Italians too?
posted by Abiezer at 7:33 AM on November 1, 2007

Wasn't there a er... shall we say hugely unsuccesful cavalry charge by Poland's cavalry against Hitler's panzers atsome point in 1939?
posted by Baud at 7:47 AM on November 1, 2007

No. Any stories of Polish cavalry charges against German tanks were a myth. See, for example Polish cavalry
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2007

Weren't there some cavalry units in Afghanistan, although not charges?
posted by caddis at 12:19 PM on November 1, 2007

Fascinating, thanks.
posted by dazed_one at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2007

Nice post mattoxic. The name "Australian light horse" just sounds so cool. It reminds me of the movie "Gallipoli". And this poem that I remember my dad reading to us when I was a kid.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.
posted by vronsky at 2:49 PM on November 1, 2007

(Third photo down in) People's Daily Online: Chinese cavalry unit gathers in the suburb of Yining, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 25, 2006.

It isn't called horsepower for nothing. Long after the oil runs out, hayburners will still be running.
posted by cenoxo at 9:11 PM on November 1, 2007

no comment on The Lighthorsemen? I loved that movie - very romanticized view of course, but still raises goosebumps when the call goes out "They're in under the guns!" Good movie suggestion for the week-end, thanks!
posted by crepeMyrtle at 7:35 AM on November 2, 2007

I tried to netflix it after watching that clip, but it must not be available in America :(
posted by vronsky at 12:00 PM on November 2, 2007

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