The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA

 

February 2011

THE ULANS ARE COMING!

Allied soldiers called all German cavalry Ulans and the cry 'The Ulans are coming' could send shivers down the spine. However the Ulan regiments were just regiments of the German cavalry branch in the same way that, say, our Hussar regiments were part of our cavalry arm.

In peacetime there were over ninety German cavalry regiments—Ulan, Cuirassier, Dragoon, and Hussar. A regiment consisted of a machine gun squadron and four 'sabre' squadrons each of about 170 all ranks and 178 horses. The men were armed with a lance, a carbine and a sword but the latter was replaced by a bayonet later in the war.

The 10ft 6in lance was a formidable weapon in a massed charge but difficult to handle and much less useful than the British cavalry sword in close encounters such as, for example, that at Casteau (22 August 1914) when the 4th Dragoon Guards clashed with the 4th Cuirassiers. The German cavalry carbine was also much inferior to the SMLE with which the British cavalry were armed. The only difference between the various regiments was dress distinctions in full dress uniform.

For example, Cuirassiers and Dragoons wore a spiked helmet, Hussars a busby and Ulans a square-topped helmet. Early in the war the German cavalry displayed little of the initiative and offensiveness expected of them. There were two reasons for this. First, in the opening weeks a number of their cavalry charges made at Halen were repulsed with very heavy casualties by dismounted Belgian troops using artillery and small arms fire. German losses in men and horses were so great that they broke off the attack and apparently never again charged Allied troops in position. Secondly, in encounter actions the standard German tactic was to withdraw in order to lead their enemy on to a line of jager troops (rifles) with machine guns and horse artillery.

From the autumn of 1914 most German cavalry divisions were transferred to the Eastern Front although some did later return to the Western Front.

Bob Butcher

AN UNHAPPY CHRISTMAS

A schoolmaster who knew I liked history once asked me if there was any time in the past that I would like to visit. I replied 'The Blitz'. 'What!' he exclaimed 'That was a terrible time'. I was shattered. I had heard so many tales of the community spirit then that I had missed the obvious.

The following two quotes show the reality of the First World War air raids even though they were on a far smaller scale than Second World War ones. The London Times of 27 December 1917 reported that:

At Marylebone last night Mr Drew held an inquest on the body of Gertrude Kathleen Huntley, aged four years, the daughter of a soldier in the Wiltshire Regiment, who is a prisoner of war in Germany. The child was found decapitated in a bedroom at Charles Lane, St John's Wood, on Sunday, and her mother Elizabeth Huntley, aged 26, is in custody on a charge of murdering her. She is at present in the infirmary at Holloway and did not attend the inquest. Mary Freeman who lives in the same house, said that the mother of the child was her sister. She had been medically

treated for neurasthenia. She had worried a great deal about the air raids and had been depressed since receiving a photograph of her husband from Germany. On Sunday witness met her in the street, when she said 'I have killed Kathleen. Give me away to the police.' A doctor stated that he had treated Mrs Huntley for neurasthenia and nervous breakdown in consequence of the air raids which had greatly upset her. She was nervous and excitable and any exceptional worry might cause her to be irresponsible for her actions.

The jury returned a verdict of 'Wilful murder' against Mrs Huntley who will be brought up at the Marylebone Court on Saturday next.

On 9 January 1918 the Times reported that Elizabeth Huntley, 25, who was charged with the murder of Kathleen Huntley, was found to be insane, and ordered to be detained until His Majesty's pleasure be known.

As General Sherman said about the American Civil War 'War is Hell'.

J.P.Lethbridge

 

MEDICAL GRADES

From 1916 soldiers and men liable to conscription were placed in one of the following categories.

Al:   fit for overseas both as regards training and physical and mental qualifications;

A2:    recruits who should be Al as soon as trained; 

A3:    returned BEF men who should be fit for Al as soon as hardened;

A4:    men under 19 who should be Al as soon as they reached 19.

B1:   fit for garrison service abroad;

B2:   fit for labour service abroad;

B3:   fit for sedentary service abroad.

C:    as in B at home.

D:   unfit for service in A, B or C but likely to become fit in six months

E:    those not likely to be so.

 

In fact, following the German spring offensive a number of divisions which had suffered very heavy casualties were reconstituted with B1 men. These B divisions were intended for trench holding only but actually took a more active part in the Last Hundred Days.

Bob Butcher

 

 

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