The standard view of the cavalry during the First World War is that it spent its entire time waiting behind the front line for the breakthrough that never came, absorbing men who could have better been used elsewhere, consuming precious supplies and representing all that was old fashioned in the British Army. Kenyon argues that this wasn't the case, and that at least on a small scale the cavalry was capable of performing a useful role in the fighting.
The early fighting in 1914, when the cavalry often performed its historical role in open warfare, is skipped over quite quickly. The main focus of the book is thus on the use of the cavalry in trench warfare and how that role evolved over time. The author makes two main arguments. The first is that the cavalry became more relevant as the Germans adopted a policy of defence in depth with fewer men in their front line, creating bigger gaps for the cavalry to operate in. The second is that the biggest weakness of the British cavalry was its command structure, which often stretched back to the Cavalry Corps, making it hard for smaller units near the front line to respond to short-lived chances or to the needs of nearby infantry units.
Kenyon argues his case well, with some very detailed accounts of individual cavalry actions. He includes a number of unsuccessful actions, and examines the reasons for their failure as well as the successes of other attacks. Ironically the cavalry's most significant contribution to the later fighting was probably in a defensive role during the German offensives of 1918 when the cavalry's mobility allowed it to reach threatened parts of the line in time to prevent a German breakthrough. This is a well-researched examination of an otherwise obscure chapter in the history of the First World War.
1 - Introduction: The Opening Stages, 1914-1915
2 - The Somme Battles, July-September 1916
3 - The Hindenburg Line and Arras, November 1916-April 1917
4 - Cambrai, November-December 1917
5 - From Operation Michael to the 'Hundred Days', 1918
6 - Conclusions
Author: David Kenyon
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military