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Mounted infantry were soldiers who rode horses instead of marching, but actually fought on foot in the modern era with muskets or rifles, but before that with spears and bows. The original dragoons were essentially mounted infantry. According to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Mounted rifles are half cavalry, mounted infantry merely specially mobile infantry."

Contents

Pre-gunpowder

The origins of mounted infantry go back to at least the beginnings of organised warfare. With the weight ancient bronze armour national champions would travel to battle on chariots before dismounting to fight. With the evolution of hoplite warfare, some hoplites would travel to battle on horseback, before again dismounting to take their place in the phalanx. The Roman military had units consisting of half cavalry and half infantry, the infantry component of the units clinging to the saddles of the cavalry to take them to battle.

Other notable infantry to use the horse to enhance their mobility include the Genoese crossbowmen, and Viking raiders who would gather all the horses they could find in the vicinity of their landings.

19th century

With the invention of accurate and quick firing repeating rifles in the middle of the 19th century, cavalry started to become increasingly vulnerable. Many armies started to use troops which could either fight on horseback or on foot as circumstances dictated. Fighting on horseback with swords or lances would allow rapid movement without cover from enemy fire, whilst fighting on foot with rifles allowed them to make use of cover and to form defensive lines.

The distinction between cavalry and mounted infantry was in practice somewhat vague, but the mid-19th century onwards some cavalry units in the American Civil War, the Boers in the First and Second Boer Wars and others usually fought as mounted infantry. The first mounted infantry units to be named as such were raised during the Mexican-American War (as the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, but redesignated Third Cavalry Regiment in 1860) and others followed, for example in Australia in the 1880s. Terms such as "mounted rifles" were often used. The French Foreign Legion used mule-mounted companies from the 1880s. Each mule was shared by two legionnaires, who took turns riding it. This arrangement allowed for faster and more prolonged marches that could cover 60 miles in one day.

In the British Army, infantry units in some parts of the British Empire had a mounted platoon for scouting and skirmishing. In addition, many locally raised units such as the Ceylon Mounted Rifles, Cape Mounted Rifles and Natal Carbineers fought as mounted infantry. In the Second Boer War, the British copied the Boers and raised large forces of their own mounted infantry. Among various ad hoc formations, the Imperial Yeomanry was raised from volunteers in Britain in 1900 and 1901.

As part of the lessons learned from that war, British regular cavalry regiments were armed with the same rifle as the infantry and became well-trained in dismounted tactics (although they never lost their obsession with the charge).

20th century transition

Many European armies also used bicycle infantry in a similar way that mounted infantry used horses. However they were handicapped by the need for proper roads.[1]

Mounted infantry largely disappeared with the demise of the horse as a means of military transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Germany deployed a few horse-mounted infantry units on the Russian Front during the Second World War, and cyclist units on both fronts as well, and both Germany and Britain (which had used cyclist battalions in the First World War) experimented with motorcycle battalions. Germany also utilized organic horse and bicycle mounted troops within infantry formations throughout World War Two, although bicycle use increased as Germany retreated into its own territory. Japan deployed cyclists to great effect in its 1941 to 1942 campaign in Malaya and drive on Singapore during World War II. A horsed cavalry regiment of the Philippine Scouts assisted in the defense of the Philippines at the onset of World War II. The 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army also maintained a Mounted Reconnaissance Troop throughout World War Two, which saw service in Italy and Austria during the war.

Countries with entrenched military traditions like Switzerland retained horse-mounted troops well into the Cold War, while Sweden kept much of its infantry on bicycles during the snow-free months.

Falkland Islands

After the Falklands War, due the distances involved when patrolling, some British Army infantry units were taught to ride Welsh mountain ponies.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Fitzpatrick, Jim (1998). The Bicycle In Wartime: An Illustrated History. Washington, DC: Brassey's Inc.. ISBN 1-57488-157-4.  

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MOUNTED INFANTRY, infantry soldiers who ride instead of marching on foot from one place to another. As combatants they are infantry pure and simple, being neither armed nor trained to fight on horseback, and their special characteristic is the power to move from one point to another with great rapidity. They are therefore useful (a) in wars, such as colonial wars, in which cavalry proper finds no scope for its activity, and (b) in performing duties for which mounted troops, but not necessarily troops that can fight mounted, are required. In these two roles mounted infantry is obviously a substitute for cavalry. As cavalry is both a most expensive arm and one which cannot be improvised, there is an ever-recurring tendency in all armies to consider it as being more ornamental than useful, and in consequence to substitute mounted infantry under one name or another (the original dragoons for example were mounted infantry) for "shock action" cavalry. In recent times, owing to the development of the long-ranging magazine rifle, this tendency has been intensified to such a degree that Russia, for example, converted the whole of her cavalry into dragoons - the term being used in its old sense - and trained it to act dismounted in large bodies. It is however significant of the failure of this wholesale conversion that after the Russo-Japanese War the regiments that were formerly hussars and lancers were reorganized as such and ceased to be styled and trained as dragoons.

It is difficult, but at the same time important, to differentiate between dragoons or "mounted rifles," as they are often called to-day, and mounted infantry in a narrower sense of the word.

Mounted rifles are half cavalry, mounted infantry merely specially mobile infantry. The American cavalry in the Civil War, the Boers in the South African War, the Russians in the Manchurian campaign, were mounted rifles, and the question of their advantages and disadvantages, as compared with what is generally called "regular" cavalry, is purely a cavalry one. The main question as regards mounted infantry is whether its existence as a special arm is justified by the kind and degree of assistance which it is peculiarly qualified to give to the other arms in war. If this be answered in the affirmative for a particular army, then that army, having raised mounted infantry, may require of it such additional services as it would be more or less uneconomical to assign to regular cavalry. Mounted infantry in this case may and in fact does assume the role of mounted rifles; for example, in the British regular army the duties of divisional mounted troops are performed by mounted infantry, while in the territorial army the same duties are performed by yeomanry mounted rifles.

In the British mounted infantry, which is the only force in any army specially trained as such,' the course of instruction lasts four months and is based on the assumption that officers and men under instruction are already fully trained as infantry (M.I. Training, 1909). All words of command, bugle sounds, formations, &c., are similar to those used in the infantry, and as a rule spurs are forbidden. The mounted infantry horse is a handy cob (14.2 to 15). The organization adopted is by battalions and companies, each company having 6 officers and 153 men, and the battalion consisting of three such companies and a machine-gun section. Mounted infantry battalions and companies do not exist in peace, but are formed on mobilization from the qualified men available who can be spared from the infantry. Since many more men are trained than would be required for the 24 or 26 companies forming part of the expeditionary force, the arm is capable of considerable expansion, while the men first selected for the service are in every way picked men. As already mentioned its duties are (a) with respect to the cavalry, first to assist and secondly to supplement or replace it - by the judicious use of the rifle, and (b) with respect to the infantry to relieve the unmounted man as far as possible of reconnoitring and orderly duties, and above all of the necessity of hurried and exhausting movements to seize points of support.

Cyclists

The application of the bicycle to military purposes was first suggested in Great Britain, and military cycling became the special and almost exclusive property of the volunteer force, in which, when cycling became universally popular and the machines cheap, practically all battalions had sections and most of them companies of cyclists. In those days, however, the want of a common organization separated the yeomanry from the volunteers, and the latter, possessing no mounted troops of its own, employed its numerous cyclists in reconnoitring, protective and orderly work indifferently. Provisional battalions were frequently formed, and in spite of their heterogeneous composition and inadequate staff they proved capable of manoeuvring as units. Movements in brigade were practised at Aldershot in 1901, the brigade composed of 3 battalions of about 650 rifles each, drawn from some forty volunteer infantry units under training at the time, being trained in combined movements by parallel roads and night marching, as well as in field operations. When the fusion of the yeomanry and volunteers in the territorial force (1907-1908) released cyclists from the duties of mounted troops which had hitherto been imposed on them, the cyclist companies in the infantry battalions were disbanded, and their place taken by 10 cyclist battalions specially trained for protective work in large tactical bodies. The regular army, which is generally employed in almost roadless countries, only maintains a few cyclists for orderly work.

Amongst the regular armies that of France was certainly 1 The infantry "mounted scouts" of the Russian and French armies are simply auxiliaries and have no existence apart from their regiments.

the pioneer in the matter of cycling. Infantry support for cavalry is a fundamental principle of the French doctrine of tactics, and this infantry support in so well-roaded a country as France naturally takes the form of strong cyclist groups. The French military cyclists are equipped with a folding bicycle, which allows of cross-country movement being undertaken without leaving the bicycles unguarded. In Germany very few military cyclists are maintained - one small section in each infantry or cavalry regiment. The field service regulations permit the grouping of these sections for united action as a company, but only under special circumstances. In Italy, however, whole battalions of the fast-moving light troops, Bersaglieri, have been within recent years provided with the cycle. Cyclists are mounted infantry in the strictest possible sense of the phrase. They possess over all horsemen the incalculable advantages of being able to make longer marches; for they can cover 80 or 90 m. a day for several days; 2 of exemption from forage anxieties; of freedom from the necessity in action of leaving one-third or one-quarter of the men to hold the horses; and of actual speed, an ordinary cyclist being able to move faster along a good road than a staff officer mounted on a thoroughbred. On the other hand cyclist troops can never be as free to move across country as horsemen; a cyclist column, owing to its speed and great length in proportion to its numbers, is peculiarly liable to surprise; and the condition of the roads or a strong head wind materially reduces its rate of marching.


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