German cavalry in World War I

German Cavalry
Active1914–19
Disbanded1919
Country German Empire
AllegianceGerman Emperor
Branch Imperial German Army
TypeCavalry
EngagementsWorld War I

The history of the German Cavalry in World War I is one of an arm in decline.

Pre-war[]

German Army cavalry re-enactment
German Army hussars on the attack during maneuvers, 1912

The peace-time Imperial German Army was organised as 25 Corps (Guards, I - XXI and I - III Bavarian) each of two divisions (1st and 2nd Guards, 1st - 42nd and 1st - 6th Bavarian). Each division included a cavalry brigade (of two regiments) numbered as their parent division with the following exceptions:

This gave a total of 55 brigades and 110 regiments.

A complete list of the pre-war regiments, their peace-time corps assignments and garrisons is shown here.

Mobilisation[]

On mobilisation, the pre-war cavalry brigades were withdrawn from their divisions (as detailed below). 33 brigades (66 regiments) were used to form the 11 cavalry divisions. The remaining 22 brigades (44 regiments) were broken up and their regiments were employed as divisional cavalry for the 50 active divisions. This necessitated 6 regiments being raised to a strength of 6 squadrons before being split into two half-regiments of 3 squadrons each. The regiments involved were:

The other active regiments had a strength of 4 squadrons.

33 Reserve Cavalry Regiments, 2 Landwehr Cavalry Regiments and an Ersatz Cavalry Regiment were also formed and assigned to field formations. Each of these had a strength of 3 squadrons.[3] Finally, there were 38 Landwehr squadrons (assigned to the mixed Landwehr brigades) and 19 Ersatz detachments (assigned to the mixed Ersatz brigades).

Regiments[]

German cavalry of the 11th Reserve Hussar Regiment in a trench in France in 1916

The 110 active regiments were assigned to the Field Army on mobilisation. Each regiment formed a depot squadron which remained in Germany and took 4 squadrons into the field. 6 regiments were brought up to a strength of 6 squadrons and split into two half regiments; they joined the two divisions of their Corps. 33 Reserve Regiments, 2 Landwehr Regiments and 1 Ersatz Regiment also joined the Field Army, but were only at a strength of 3 squadrons.

Establishment of each regiment[3]
Squadrons Officers NCOs and other ranks riding horses draught horses bridge wagons telephone wagons medical wagons baggage wagons supply wagons fodder wagons
4 36 688 709 60 2 1 1 5 5 5
6 51 1017 1057 76 2 1 0 7 7 7
3 27 511 532 36 0 0 0 4 4 4

Cavalry Divisions[]

Soldier of the Grenadier-Regiment „König Friedrich Wilhelm I.“ (2. Ostpreußisches) Nr. 3 in Königsberg during equestrian training

In September 1916, the establishment of cavalry regiments within the Cavalry Divisions was reduced to 675 horses instead of 769. The Supreme Command did not stop there, but also took away the horses of entire regiments and used them as infantry.[5] These regiments were redesignated as Cavalry Schützen Regiments (as detailed below). By the end of the war, just 22 Cavalry Regiments remained mounted, a fifth of the active regiments mobilised in 1914.[6]

Divisional Cavalry[]

A measure was put into force through the War Ministry at the beginning of August 1916 whereby every division and autonomous brigade in the Army of the West was to command just one squadron of cavalry. The measure also came into force immediately in the Army of the East. The Landwehr and Ersatz formations, together with the individual squadrons and Reserve Detachments set up during the war for the new divisions were dissolved.[7]

For the cavalry regiments allocated as individual squadrons to the divisions, the regimental unit ceased to exist for all practical purposes. The Regimental Staffs were not dissolved, but were for the most part left with the divisions they happened to find themselves with, to be used for special purposes. 16 Regimental Commanders found new employment as horse inspectors;[8] two Regimental Staffs were changed into Infantry Regiment Staffs;[9] and three Regimental Staffs were changed into Jäger Regiment Staffs.[10]

By the end of war, about 250 individual mounted squadrons remained, representing 61 active and 22 reserve cavalry regiments.[6]

Nomenclature[]

Although the various regiments were divided into a number of different categories (cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars, uhlans, etc.) all had the same role.[11] Regiments bore a number within its category, a state (or province in the case of Prussian regiments) and usually an honour title. For example,

Bavarian regiments were numbered in a separate sequence, so 1st Royal Bavarian Uhlans "Emperor William II, King of Prussia" was distinct from 1st (West Prussian) Uhlans "Emperor Alexander III of Russia"

Uniquely amongst cavalry regiments, the 7th Dragoon Regiment was awarded an honour title during the war (on 23 September 1917) and was thereafter

Brigades[]

33 pre-war brigades were used to form the 11 cavalry divisions. The remaining 22 brigades were broken up (only the 39th Cavalry Brigade was reconstituted) and their regiments were used to form the divisional cavalry for the 50 pre-war infantry divisions. Other than these, only a handful of other Cavalry Brigades were formed:[13]

All other Cavalry Brigades named for their commanders were temporary formations and merely consisted of reinforced cavalry regiments, for example Cavalry Brigade Kaufmann under the Staff of 6th Uhlans.

By the end of the war, just 10 cavalry brigades remained as mounted formations:[14]

The rest had been dissolved, converted to Cavalry Schützen Commands, or formed mixed units in Russia and the Ukraine.

Divisions[]

The German Army constituted 11 cavalry divisions at the outbreak of war - the existing Guards Cavalry Division and 10 more formed on mobilisation. Each consisted of 3 cavalry brigades (6 regiments each of 4 squadrons), a horse artillery Abteilung (3 four-gun batteries), a machine gun detachment (company size, 6 MGs), plus pioneers, signals and a motor vehicle column. A more detailed Table of Organisation and Equipment can be seen here.

Apart from the opening actions of the war, the use of these divisions as proper cavalry was only possible in the offensive in Courland and on Vilna in 1915, for a short time in Romania, and in 1918 in support of the Ukraine. Most of the time they were used as infantry.

The increasing shortage of horses led to the 4th, 5th and 9th Cavalry Divisions being dismounted in October 1916. The 3rd Cavalry Division was dissolved in November 1916 and the 6th and 7th Cavalry Divisions were also dismounted in November 1917. The Guards Cavalry Division followed in March 1918.

The dismounted divisions were converted to Cavalry Schützen Divisions. Here, the cavalry brigades were renamed Cavalry Schützen Commands and performed a similar role to that of an infantry regiment command. Likewise, the cavalry regiments became Cavalry Schützen Regiments and allotted the role of an infantry battalion and their squadrons acted as infantry companies. However, these units were much weaker than normal infantry formations (for example, a Schützen squadron had a strength of just 4 officers and 109 NCOs and other ranks, considerably less than that of an infantry company).[6] However, the 5th, 8th and 9th Cavalry Divisions were dissolved before conversion to Schützen.

By the end of the war, there were only 3 Cavalry Divisions in the East (1st, 2nd and Bavarian with just 5 brigades between them) and 4 Schützen Divisions in the West (Guards, 4th, 6th and 7th though the 4th was more akin to a Landwehr Division).

Corps[]

German Cavalry entering Warsaw on 5 August 1915

On mobilisation, the German Army formed 4 Cavalry Corps for the Western Front (just a single Cavalry Division was operating in the East). Initially, each simply consisted of 2 or 3 Cavalry Divisions without any Corps troops; in supply and administration matters, the Cavalry Divisions were entirely autonomous. The Cavalry Corps were entitled Höhere Kavallerie-Kommando (HKK - Higher Cavalry Command) and the commander was only concerned with tactics and strategy, hence his title of Senior Cavalry Commander Höherer Kavallerie-Kommandeur.[20]

By the beginning of 1915, with the solidifying of the trench system, they could no longer find employment on the Western Front. II and IV Cavalry Corps were dissolved and I and III Cavalry Corps were transferred to the East. With less use as pure Cavalry formations, each underwent a series of redesignations according to their particular role from time to time. Two new Corps were formed in June 1915 (V and VI Cavalry Corps) as a gap opened between the Army of the Niemen and 10th Army during the Courland offensive. With the conclusion of the offensive, all four Cavalry Commanders were assigned sectors of the front and thus took on the functions similar to a normal Corps and were reorganised in a similar fashion. Therefore, for the Romanian Campaign, none of the existing Cavalry Corps were brought in, instead a new temporary Cavalry Corps was set up in Transylvannia (Cavalry Corps "Schmettow").

Finally, all the Cavalry Corps were redesignated as General Commands for Special Use Generalkommandos zur besonderen Verwendung (Genkdo z.b.V.) and were indistinguishable from other Corps (56th-59th and 65th Corps (z.b.V.)).[21]

End of the War[]

By the end of the war

As the war ended, the regiments marched back to Germany and dissolved as the troops reached their home towns. A number of regiments were perpetrated as squadrons of the post-war Reichswehr.

See also[]

References[]

  1. ^ a b War Office 1918, pp. 239–263
  2. ^ Grenadiers zu Pferde literally Horse Grenadiers or Mounted Grenadiers. Ranked as 3rd Dragoons.
  3. ^ a b Cron 2002, p. 128
  4. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 301–328
  5. ^ Cron 2002, p. 129
  6. ^ a b c d e f Cron 2002, p. 130
  7. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 128–129
  8. ^ Cron 2002, p. 129 Retained their designations, responsible for tours of inspection and balancing the stock of horses within certain districts.
  9. ^ Cron 2002, p. 129 The Staff of 86th Cavalry Regiment became Staff of 433rd Infantry Regiment and Staff of 1st Reserve Uhlan Regiment became Staff of 434th Infantry Regiment
  10. ^ Cron 2002, p. 129 The Staff of 4th Dragoons became Staff of 11th Jäger Regiment, the Staff of 2nd Uhlans became Staff of 12th Jäger Regiment and the Staff of 8th Bavarian Chevaulégers became Staff of 13th Jäger Regiment
  11. ^ Haythornthwaite 1996, p. 199
  12. ^ Cron 2002, p. 33
  13. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 128–129
  14. ^ a b Cron 2002, p. 127
  15. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 352–354
  16. ^ Ellis & Cox 1993, p. 126
  17. ^ Cron 2002, p. 105
  18. ^ a b c Cron 2002, p. 106
  19. ^ Sweetman 2002, p. 177
  20. ^ Cron 2002, p. 94
  21. ^ a b Cron 2002, pp. 94–95
  22. ^ Cron 2002, p. 299
  23. ^ Armee-Gruppe in the sense of a part of an army formed for a specific task. Heeresgruppe is an Army Group in the sense of a number of armies under a single commander.
  24. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 299–300
  25. ^ Cron 2002, pp. 300–301
  26. ^ Cron 2002, p. 301
  27. ^ a b c Cron 2002, p. 95

Bibliography[]