Cavalry & Machine Guns

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Machine Gun training class, Hammelburg. Interestingly enough, the Chevaulegers pictured appear to be wearing the older pre-feldgrau green tunic.

During the First World War, the machine gun played a major role and its impact made itself felt almost in all aspects of the war. For the cavalry, the machine gun was one of the key factors that contributed to its demise as an arm of decision on the battlefield. Although machine guns had been in use long before 1914, the First World War finally brought home the idea to even the most die-hard conservative officer that mounted cavalry could not operate effectively in its traditional role as a combat arm.

However, the cavalry still had a role to play in a scouting role and as mounted infantry, using the horse as a means of mobility to get to a given position rather than actually fighting off of it. For the German Army’s experiences in the Herrero Wars in Südwest Afrika had provided invaluable experience (although it’s somewhat debatable just how much of an impact it made on officers) and pointed towards the future. The British Army’s experiences in the Boer war had also amply demonstrated cavalry’s new battlefield role, lessons that were for the most part taken to heart.

As the war progressed, the need for more machine guns prompted all the major combatants to ramp up production of this key item and specialized units were created to employ them in combat. At first, machine guns were viewed as more of a speciality weapon, requiring soldiers to be specially trained for the task. However, as the war dragged on and manpower shortages became more acute, the German Army sought ways to make up for the reduced number of infantry by increasing their firepower and this meant placing machine guns in the hands of the infantrymen themselves, thus the machine gun became integrated down to the battalion level (the Machine Gun Company was designated as the 13th Kompanie) and this is reflected in a series of changes in the infantry regiment/battalion/company TOEs (Tables of Organization and Equipment). This process was an uneven one and the ideal was not attained until the Second World War but it was still light years ahead of what had existed in 1914.

For the cavalry, machine guns provided a method by which it could also increase its firepower, especially if it was to operate more as mounted infantry (especially on the East Front). Towards this end, from July 1915 on, cavalry machine gun platoons (Kavallerie-MG Züge) were organized, each armed with three MG08 Machine Guns with one being attached to each cavalry regiment with the cavalry regiments that were in the remaining cavalry divisions having priority.

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The MG08 completely set up with water cooling jacket and a periscope sight.

Below is an overview of the MG Platoon’s assigned men:

Cav MG

From Dirk Rottgardt, German Armies’ Establishments 1914/18: Volume 3: Cavalry, Supply Troops and Gendarmerie, p. 28.

Each machine gun was transported in a wagon drawn by six horses, driven by three soldiers, all mounted on horses of the wagon team and it was even capable of firing from the wagon. NCOs and Gunner Nos. 2 and 3 carried pistols- typically the P08 while the others were armed with the KAR 98a. Each machine gun had 1 mounted NCO as gun leader and six machine gunners, two which held the horses for the gun team while the remainder manned the gun itself. Interestingly enough, the above organization applied to the first two guns while for the third, two of the team were dismounted, riding in the platoon’s one supply wagon.

Eventually, some time in 1916, additional platoons were created so that now each cavalry regiment now had a Machine Gun Squadron consisting of six guns. Evidence is scanty on the precise organization but it’s presumed that a second platoon was formed so each MG Squadron would have two platoons.

The next development is interesting from the 2 Chevauleger perspective in that it was directed at the squadrons that composed the divisional reconnaissance element. In the Fall of 1917, each squadron was to create a “Machine Gun Party” or Maschinengewehr-Trupps consisting of three MG08 Machine Guns and utilizing existing personnel within the squadron itself- there were to be no additional personnel assigned and no additional horses or wagons. Essentially, this could be considered an internal organization.

Later in March 1918, an order was issued creating the “Light Machine Gun Party” or Leichte Maschinengewehr-Trupps what were to be armed with three MG 08/18 (some sources indicate that the war ended before these could be fielded) light machine guns, an air-cooled version of the MG 08/15 (“light” is a relative term, I have handled the 08/15 and it weighs in the neighborhood of some 40 pounds). Each “sabre” squadron of cavalry regiments that were still mounted was to be assigned one of these and as with the Maschinengewehr-Trupps above, the personnel, horses, and wagons were to be secured from the cavalry regiment’s existing resources.

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The MG 08/18. The air-cooled barrel was an improvement although it did not significantly reduce its weight.

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The MG 08/15 set up with water can and ammunition.

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Another machine gun training class with cavalry of various regiments. Unfortunately, no Chevaulegers.

Finally, it must be noted that training for the cavalry soldaten who were to main the machineguns was conducted though a Machine Gun Replacement Squadron or Maschinengewehr-Ersatz-Eskadron located in Spandau and it acted as a centralized source for all cavalry machine gun troops. Individuals would be sent from each cavalry regiment’s depots (Ersatz Eskadron) for training. Afterwards, they would be dispatched to their respective regiments. Later on, soldiers could be reassigned to a different cavalry regiment, depending on immediate needs.

This is just an introduction to a somewhat obscure topic but it does fill in a gap in our knowledge. In terms of the 2 Chevauleger and the 3 Eskadron in particular, I have so far been unable to locate any photos but I will continue to do so.

Sources Consulted:

Herman Cron, Imperial German Army 1914 – 18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle

Dirk Rottgardt, German Armies’ Establishments 1914/18: Volume 3: Cavalry, Supply Troops and Gendarmerie

Horrido!

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