Belgian Army, WW I


Armée belge | Une section de mitrailleuses Maxim
(Belgian Army: a Maxim machine gun section)
c.1914
Publisher: Nels

At the beginning of the First World War the Belgian Army could field only 102 machine guns. However, many of these guns were transported by a very unusual method. They were pulled on small gun carriages by specially trained dog teams. The machine guns seen in the photographs above are Maxim guns, but the Belgian Army also had a number of French Hotchkiss guns. The dogs used to pull the machine guns were Belgian Mastiffs, this strong breed were more than capable of drawing the 60lbs weight of a Maxim gun. . . .The relatively cheap cost of pack dogs compared to horses, along with their relative lack of maintenance – with no need for horse shoes etc, made the dogs an excellent option. They also offered a much lower profile than that of a pack horse, allowing them to stay close to the guns ready to move under cover when in action, and were much easier to handle without the need for specially trained troops. The dog teams were attached to most Belgian line infantry regiments with each battalion with 6 guns, split into 2-gun sections – each battalion had 36 dogs for the 18 gun and ammunition carriages. The machine guns could be brought into action very quickly and it was said that the dogs were so well trained they would remain quiet and patient in their harnesses until it was time to move again.
Historical Firearms


Armée belge | Les Cyclistes
(Belgian Amry: The Cyclists)
c.1914
Publisher: Nels

Bicycle infantry are infantry soldiers who maneuver on (or, more often, between) battlefields using military bicycles. The term dates from the late 19th century, when the “safety bicycle” became popular in Europe, the United States, and Australia. Historically, bicycles lessened the need for horses, fuel and vehicle maintenance.
Wikipedia.

With the advent of WWI, the thickly-roaded districts of France and Flanders meant that military cyclists would find the ground better suited for their wheels than combatants found in the South African veldt. The flat landscape of the low countries meant that Belgium in particular was an ideal environment for military cyclists and they were well used in the initial stages before the static stalemate of the trenches set in. Four Carabinier battalions of the Belgian army had attached companies of cyclists. They wore a distinctive uniform with a somewhat old-fashioned peaked hat similar to a kepi. Their cycles were the “Belgica” which was a foldable cycle. This allowed the bicycle to be slung across the shoulder when encountering difficult terrain. A dedicated military cycling school in Belgium provided troops with specific training in reading maps, reconnaissance and communication techniques, as well as the mechanical skills needed to maintain the bicycles.
Suburban Militarism: Belgium’s Carabinier Bicyclists


Armée belge | Escadron de cavalerie
(Belgian Amry: cavalry squadron)
c.1914
Publisher: Nels

The use of horses in World War I marked a transitional period in the evolution of armed conflict. Cavalry units were initially considered essential offensive elements of a military force, but over the course of the war, the vulnerability of horses to modern machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire reduced their utility on the battlefield. This paralleled the development of tanks, which ultimately replaces cavalry in shock tactics. While the perceived value of the horse in war changed dramatically, horses still played a significant role throughout the war.
Wikipedia.

Cavalry School, Samur, France


On back:
Ecole de Saumur
Entertainement des eleves
(Samur School/Training of students)

In 1763, Louis XV (via the Duc de Choiseul) reorganised the French cavalry. A new school for officers from all the cavalry regiments was set up at Saumur, managed and supervised by the “Corps Royal des Carabiniers” – since its inception the school has been hosted in the carabinier regiment’s quarter of the town, latterly in a magnificent 18th century building. This functioned until 1788. At the end of 1814, after the First Restoration, Louis XVIII set up the “École d’Instruction des Troupes à cheval” in Saumur. Its activities declined from 1822 onwards so it was regenerated by Charles X under the name of the “École Royale de Cavalerie” (later renamed the École impériale de cavalerie de Saumur). Most of its building complex was taken up with a military riding area and a riding-academy training hall. From 1830, with the disappearance of the École de Versailles, Saumur became the capital and sole repository of the French equestrian tradition, and its knowledge (such as in the Cadre Noir and its training regime in dressage) is still recognised throughout the world. At the end of the Second World War the French mounted cavalry (reduced to several squadrons of spahis retained for patrol work by this point) and armoured troops merged to form the ‘Arme blindée et cavalerie’ (ABC), with the École de Saumur becoming the new branch’s training centre.
Wikipedia.

If the wars of the Revolution and the Empire confirmed the legendary bravery of the French cavalry, they also revealed a lack of equestrian training. The troops were destroyed by contagious illness, the ferocity of combat, and the poor quality of the military equitation of the time. The French cavalry was decimated after the Napoleonic wars. In 1815 a Cavalry school was created in Saumur to reform the mounted troops and to standardize the use of the horse in war. Faced with the urgency of retraining riders and horses, a body of instructors was set up, made up of several great civilian riding masters, out of the Manèges of Versailles, the Tuileries and Saint-Germain. Considered the elite of the period, they trained the officer pupils of the cavalry : In 1825, it was the birth of the Cadre Noir of Saumur.

However at the beginning of the XXth century when the cavalry became mechanized (tanks and planes having gradually replaced horses on the battlefield) the question was raised of the usefulness of the Cadre Noir at the heart of the army. The government of the time could not bring itself to eliminate something which had become a real living heritage for France with the passage of time. A spectacular increase in riding for pleasure in the 70’s saw the creation of innumerable equestrian centres. The creation of the National Riding School was aimed at organizing the teaching of riding in France; its vocation to prepare for high level teaching diplomas and top level competition.. The National Riding School was created by decree in 1972 under the charge of the Minister for Sport.
Le Cadre noir de Saumur