Monday, 5 July 2010

French ww1 cavalry

After the front was broken on 27 May 1918, 4th squadron, 10th Chasseurs à cheval (light cavalry) regiment was dispatched to support the 299th infantry regiment, from Savoy, which had lost 2/3 of its personnel.

While Chaudin had been taken, the road to the Villers-Cotterêt forest was open to the enemy. On 30 May, 4th squadron would charge to open the path for the counterattack of the infantrymen of 299th regiment.

Commanded by captain d'Avout, the squadron was down to eighty cavalrymen.

What hope was there for such a weak force against the momentum of a victorious infantry? that simply wasn't the question.

- Draw sabers!

Eighty blades spring like so many lightning bolts. Eighty breasts pant.

A Dieu vat!

- Richert, dress your line, one rank, two meter interval. To the German infantry, ride!

- Direction: to the right of the single tree in front of you!

Lieutenant Richert salutes with his saber the colonel and staff of the 299th. The infantrymen, pale with emotion, salute back...

The platoon deploys as if this was just a parade drill, passes the 299th's line... starts...

Immediately, the German machine guns rattle. Fortunately, they're firing extremely low, mowing the rye. Only two horses fall.

- Charge! Charge!

The german artillery wakes up. Volleys of shrapnel fill the air with their sharp cracks. 2nd platoon starts to follow, then it's 3rd platoon's turn...

The charge sweeps the plateau. At full gallop, bent over their horses' necks, the chasseurs echo the officers' cry:

Charge! charge!

The machine-guns of the 299th are supporting the movement to the right. Other horses, a few men fall.

Behind the cavalrymen, colonel Vidal starts moving his regiment with fixed bayonets. A shout is heard:

Forward! Forward!

The Germans hadn't had the time to come to their senses. Surprised by the suddenness of the attack, unware of the paltry numbers of the cavalrymen, the officers don't have time to give orders. The first line offers no resistance. Their skirmishers lie on the ground, protecting themselves with their packs. The squadron rushes over them. It is now riding on toward the steep ravine through which runs the Vierzy-Soissons railroad, its front on the plateau now an echeloned 300m.

Until now, losses have been light, despite heavy machine-gun fire and the German artillery's shrapnel barrage. What will happen when the platoons reach the second line, an invisible line that has had time to realize the situation? Suddenly, a German infantry squad rises through the rye in front of 1st platoon.

An officer orders them to fire. Rifles crack, bullets whistle, lieutenant Richert's horse falls... a moment of anguish. The platoon starts to waver, but only for a passing second. Richert stands up, waves his saber: Forward! forward!

The platoon passes him, continues the charge, while the officer jumps on his now standing horse. A strange scene now unveiled. Everywhere, on the ravines edge, German soldiers appeared, not to fire, but to flee.

At captain d'Avout's command, the squadron regroups facing north. On this side of the plateau, there still are German squads left, prolonging the line the squadron has just overrun.

Frightened by this charge in their rear, by the sight of the sight of the tirailleurs regiment which is moving in support of the 299th, the men drop their weapons and throw up their arms. The Moroccans only have to pluck them.

In a few minutes, the charge swept the plateau over 2km, first from the west, then from south to north. The infantrymen of the 299th followed it with bayonets. They only had to send to the rear the men of 7th Grenadier over whom the charge had ridden and who surrendered without any resistance. There wasn't a single armed German left on the plateau...

299th reoccupied the position from which they'd been driven in the morning. The squadron slowly marched back to the small wood from which it started...

The men count themselves. Fourteen horses and their riders are missing... but one by one, the missing cavalrymen find their way back to the squadron, several of them carrying their dead horse's packs. One wounded. Not a single dead.

After the front was broken on 27 May 1918, 4th squadron, 10th Chasseurs à cheval (light cavalry) regiment was dispatched to support the 299th infantry regiment, from Savoy, which had lost 2/3 of its personnel.