The legend of Hodson's Horse

France and Flanders.

On 31 August 1914, 9th Hodson’s Horse (also known as 4th Horse in later years), located at Ambala, got the orders to prepare to move as part of the Ambala Brigade for war in France. Its convoy reached Marseilles on 7 November. After dismounting from the ship, the Regiment moved to Orleans, where it was trained with British soldiers for trench warfare for 10 days. On 21 December, Hodson’s Horse was inducted to La Bassee and after reaching there the plan for a horsemounted attack was cancelled. For three days non-stop the Regiment fought from trenches full of water and dirt. Thereafter it moved near Norrent Fontes for training with the division followed by another phase of trench battle in very adverse weather for which it was awarded the battle honour “Givenchy”. In June 1916, it fought protracted actions earning more battle honours Somme, Bazentine and Flers – Courcelette. In March,1917, 9th Hodson’s Horse was commended for a daring reconnaissance mission by the Divisional Commander.

For the first time in the history of warfare battle tanks were used. Huge and very slow moving as they were, Sir Julian Byng used them at Cambrai for making safe lanes through a minefield for infantry. The plan was unsuccessful because there were not enough tanks to make the required number of lanes.

It was in Cambrai towards end November, 1917 that the Regiment fought its toughest action. Coming under heavy fire with the forward most troops facing the brunt of it. The heavy toll of fatal casualties included two brave officers, Majors AI Farser and FST Atkinson. It was in this battle that the Regiment’s Medical Officer, Capt Som Dutt, treated an enemy German officer, who was so overcome that he took off his Iron Cross and presented it to him. The battle honour Cambrai awarded to the Regiment, became an important one celebrated every year on 30 November.

The various actions in France and Belgium reinforced the reputation of the Regiment as one which delivered despite worst of odds. The Brigade Commander’s words aptly define 9thHoson’s Horse “They will reach the objective anyhow”.

In various actions the Western theatre, 9th Hodson’s Horse won all the battle honours, i.e. France & Flanders, Somme, Flers Courcelette, Bazentine, Givenchy, Cambrai at dawn Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander of Allied forces in France praised India’s effort in the Allied cause how she had raised more than a million soldiers, how she had lost upwards of one hundred thousand men. After telling the story of the battles from the 10th to 13th March 1915, the Marshal described how the Indian Corps opened the attack. “The Indian Troops,” he said, “were thus among the first to show the way to a victorious offensive. It is only right that a Memorial should perpetuate the glorious memory of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Indian Army at the very spot where later on a general attack by the Allied troops was to bring the decisive victory in sight.” Turning to the Indian Contingent, he bade them: “Return to your homes in the distant, sun-bathed East and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern land of France and Flanders, how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined enemy; tell all India that we shall watch over their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We shall cherish above all the memory of their example. They showed us the way, they made the first steps towards the final victory.”

“Neuve Chappelle – India’s Memorial in France 1914-1918, is a tribute to Indian soldiers. Photographs of those days, now available on internet depict more than words the adulation that Indian soldiers received from the French public. The caption of a photograph of a contigent of Sikh soldiers in France on a French postcard reads: “The arrival of Sikh soldiers in Marseilles, 1914. Gentlemen of India marching to chasten German hooligans”. A quote: The Indians didn’t give them much time to arrive at an understanding. With a shrill yell they rode right through the German infantry, thrusting right and left with their terrible lances, arid bringing a man down every time. The Germans broke and ran for their lives, pursued by the Lancers for about a mile. Our swarthy soldiers from the East have been delighted to win the cheers of the British and French troops. (Source from ‘T.P.’s Journal of Great Deeds Of The Great War’, November 21, 1914).

Palestine & Syria:

In March 1918 the Indian Cavalry were withdrawn from the Western front and the Lucknow Cavalry Brigade moved to Egypt, where it was reorganized and the units went on to Palestine where they saw service in General Edmund ‘Bull’ Allenby’s final campaign.

Allenby’s advance into Palestine, commanding the 4th and 5th Indian divisions, along with an Australian and a New Zealand division, against a formidable line-up of Turks and Germans.The two divisions comprised 9th Hodson’s Horse, 2nd Lancers, 29th Lancers, 6th Cavalry, 38th Central India Horse, 36th Jacob’s Horse (Scinde Horse), 19th Lancers, Jodhpur Lancers, 20th Deccan Horse, Mysore Lancers, 18th Lancers, 34th Poona Horse and Hyderabad Lancers. Most of these units were later amalgamated into armoured regiments of the Indian Army. They marched from Nazareth to Damascus where Risaldar Nur Ahmed of Hodson’s Horse made hundreds of Turks surrender to him.

On 18 September the Division moved to El Jelil and next day early morning attacked the front line and right flank and captured lt. Thus Infantry got its safe lane for further advance. At 0600 hours 9thHodson’s Horse reached Nahr El Falik. C and ‘D’ Squadrons of the Regt captured 70 prisoners, guns and other war material while crossing Nahr El Falik and Murkhalid. On 30 September in an action where 9thHodson’s Horse was leading, Maj MD Vigors commanding ‘D’ Sqn got an input of 70 Turkish soldiers advancing to Kiswe. In a number of more actions that ensued, not only those 70 but a total of 900 Turkish soldiers with a lot af arms and equipment were captured. Turkish Army had lost most of its soldiers, but Gen Allenby decided to finish the rest of the Turkish Army.

Around Aleppo there were about 20,000 Germans and Turkish soldiers, of which 8000 had already lost hope. On 20th March the Division advanced towards Aleppo. On 26 October 9 Hodson’s Horse was inducted into Aleppo and by 31 October the Turkish Army surrendered. In these 38 days the Regiment covered a total of 567 miles and made a major contribution to the Division’s tally of 1100 prisoners of war and 58 canons. Hodson’s Horse was always ahead in the advancing columns and its commendable performance in all operations was praised by the Divisional Commander. More battle honours awarded to 9th Hodson’s Horse for WW I in the Middle Eastern theatre were Megiddo, Palestine, Sharon, Damascus, Khan-Baghdadi and Mesopotamia.

Lt Colonel Anil Bhat VSM (Retd) ,an
ex-cavalry officer himself, is the Associate
Editor of Salute

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