Home Forums WWI Any advice on WWI specialist troop employment please?

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    Andrew Rolph

    In putting together a couple of infantry and a cavalry division (at one stand=one company) for each of France, Germany and Britain, there are a few troops in the TO&Es, about whose function and employment I am unsure. If anyone has anything to offer, thanks in advance. My intention here is to play battles set only during the first three or four months of the war, with one or two divisions on each side.

    a) Each division has one or two companies (stands) of engineers. I expect these perform all the traditional engineering tasks and presume that they would be used in the front line as regular infantry only as a last resort. As such, a division in battle wouldn’t normally attach them to a battalion/regiment unless there were some specific engineering work anticipated as being required? Ordinarily then, in, for example, an encounter, the engineering stand of the division could reasonably be restricted to deploying somewhere near/with the divisional HQ rather than with one of the constituent regiments/brigades?

    b) The British infantry divisions and the French cavalry divisions each have a single bicycle company. In both cases is the anticipated role that of reconnaissance (in the case of the British infantry, alongside the divisional squadron of cavalry)? If so, then again, presumably, having located the enemy, the cyclists then made their way back to division, quite possibly in a dispersed fashion, and played little further part in the main battle? Did they then act as divisional HQ communication troops and/or emergency defence troops?

    In both these cases I am trying to get a feeling for whether the engineers and cyclists really represent an extra (albeit small) resource available for deployment in the battleline or whether effectively, unless performing engineering/recon functions, they are better left out of any game.

    c) Finally, the German cavalry and one of the German infantry divisions has a jaeger battalion, each comprising an infantry btn, an MG company and a bicycle company.  Were such btns always/generally employed as a unit or were their constituent elements (ever/only rarely) broken up across the line? So, for example, the cyclists are detached to perform recon duties for a regiment, the MG company assigned to support another regiment’s MG company, whilst the infantry are attached to yet another regiment?


    Thanks for your assistance




    For my WW1 divisions, I have modelled the cyclist and pioneer units but they rarely get to fight anyone. The pioneers should be busy doing route clearance/maintenance, but the cyclists can add a fun element in more open battles with recce screens etc.

    The jager battalions were a key component of the German cavalry divisions though, and gave them a fair bit of extra wallop, particularly when operating dismounted. iirc they usually fought as battalions

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Andrew Rolph

    Okay Martin, thanks for that. Largely as I expected. I’ll model the engineer/cyclist stands (and indeed the cycling engineers in the French (cavalry, I think)) but probably not use them much.

    The jaegers are indeed a useful addition – an infantry btn with three times the mgs and bonus cyclists!



    Tony Hughes

    British engineer companies were usually spread out over the division but not usually attached to specific sub-units. They had a series of roles (demolition, road repair, minor bridging etc.) and also provided tools and expertise to the infantry for larger works that needed manpower. French & German engineers operated in a similar fashion though both tended to have more specialised engineering units as well (though more likely at Corps level). I’d expect an on-table engineer unit to be smaller than a company, often a lot smaller, but not always able to do all possible engineering tasks, just those it was specifically equipped for. British engineers certainly had some motor transport and motor cycles come up in the memoirs being used by engineers too but also lots of engineers in place to demolish but with no explosives or no detonators & such.

    German Jaegers with cavalry divisions (I think they were technically Corps troops but not sure) added significant firepower to the small German cavalry divisions – they had 6 MG, the same as a full infantry regiment. Never quite sure how big the cyclist engineers were in reality as they don’t seem to get many mentions and are often absent from TOE.

    British cycle troops were, as far as I can find out, mostly used as messengers and LoC troops in small parcels. Cavalry did the recce work.

    French cyclists may have been similar but I think that they were intended more for a similar role to the German Jaegers but I’m not familiar with any evidence that would prove that.

    Don’t forget Signal units & Bridging trains though these are more likely to be scenario specific units. I use some signaller bases to indicate observer links back to artillery and divisional command and I have bridge building bases but can’t find anyone that does bridging trains in 10mm.

    Tony of TTT


    Robert Dunlop

    French cyclists fought alongside their cavalry colleagues. At Longlier, for example, French cyclists were responsible for point guard and then holding Longlier against the German infantry and divisional cavalry patrols. They created barricades and then used fire/manoeuvre to withdraw.

    The first British soldier to be killed on the Western Front was a cyclist on recce patrol. Cyclists were used to support infantry division cavalry squadrons in close reconnaissance, whereas the main cavalry brigades were for longer distance recce missions.


    Robert Dunlop

    The Cyclist Company from the French 9th Cavalry Division kept a war diary. The first two paragraphs for August 20, 1914 read:

    “The Advance Guard of the 9th Cavalry Division moved towards Neufchâteau via Straimont. A troop from 3rd Dragoons formed the point. At Straimont, the Captain learned that a squadron from the 2nd Hussars (4th Cavalry Division) had been engaged [earlier] in the morning in Neufchâteau against German cavalry, to the disadvantage of the latter. Once the northern exit of Neufchâteau was made secure, the company advanced towards Longlier. The company reached the town, following behind Squadrons Bossut  and Pastourel that had been sent on ahead to reconnoitre with two cyclist sections under the commands of l’adjutant Vadel and l’adjudant en chef Leprince respectively.

    On exiting Longlier, the men were stopped by fire from dismounted [German] uhlans; Squadron Bossut dismounted with Cyclist Section Sontay to the north of the road, facing the woods 1,500 m northwest of Longlier. The woods had been organised for defence by the enemy [which may be a reference to the triangular wood that was mentioned in the account of the German 87th Infantry Regiment]. Section Fertaud (2nd Platoon) prolonged the line to left with Lieutenant Filippi; 1st Platoon deployed to the right of 2nd Platoon south of the road, with part of a section on the road towards the bridge. The machine gun section from 1st Dragons came into the line north of the road with 2nd Platoon.”


    Tony Hughes

    That is a good bit of info Robert and confirms my thoughts.

    British infantry had cycles as part of their normal equipment, not sure exactly how many per Bn but they were used for a variety of tasks as pictures & memoirs show them used by signallers, engineers and messengers as well as for Recce.



    Cyclists were used to support infantry division cavalry squadrons in close reconnaissance, whereas the main cavalry brigades were for longer distance recce missions.

    Interesting. I had never thought about it, but obviously the cyclists would act as infantry (which they were) to hold the ground when needed, better than cavalry could do.


    John D SaltJohn D Salt

    WW1 isn’t really my period, but I include here a few snippets excised from “The Battle of the Lys 1918: Givenchy and the River Lawe” (Pen & Sword 2011) by my old pal Phil Tomaselli:

    [Of the German advance after the collapse of the Portuguese next to 55th Div]
    p. 22 “The emphasis was on speed of advance and bicycle troops were already moving forward into open country shortly after the Portuguese line broke.”

    [1/5th King’s Royal Lancashires]
    p. 64-65 “A Company briefly managed to get in touch with the XI Corps Cyclists on their left holding the fortified village of La Couture, and sent back two runners saying so. But apart from the heavy firing heard coming out of the mist nothing more was heard of them — they were swamped by superior numbers and went down fighting. This left an ominous gap of over 900 metres in the British line between Le Touret, La Couture and the River Lawe. Here the mist favoured the defenders and the Germans seem to have concentrated on reducing the Cyclists garrison rather than pressing on to cross the river.
    “This allowed time for the Divisional Pioneers to move up, consisting of 1/4th South Lancashires, along with 419 and 423 Field Companies, Royal Engineers, as well as some men from the 1/5th South Lancashire Regiment, and gradually an extended line was run out from the Tuning Fork line through Le Touret, and round Mesplaux Farm to the north, where it reached the Lawe Canal.”

    p. 65 “By midnight the 55th Division found itself holding a front of some 10,000 metres. The divisional commanders could be very proud of their men: 164 Brigade had held the whole of its original line intact; 165 Brigade had had held its second line and thrown out a flank of 1,800 metres; and 166 Brigade had effectively plugged an ominous and threatening gap in the line. It was the 55th Division’s finest hour, and Givenchy was chosen as the site of their divisional memorial.”

    p. 69 “The 11th Cyclist Battalion had been formed in May 1916 after the amalgamation of the 33rd, 35th and 38th divisional cycle companies. Frequently assigned for traffic control duties in the corps area, many of the men had experience of trench warfare gained from serving in attachments to other regiments, but this was the first time they had served together in action as a battalion.”

    p. 72 “Of the 17 officers and 499 other ranks of the 11th Cyclist Battalion who started out that morning, 9 officers and 234 other ranks became casualties during the day’s fighting. Lieutenant H.D. Collis, as the senior surviving officer, assumed command at the end of the day. Unknown to their comrades, some Cyclists were still holding out in posts around the village and continued to fight into the next day.”

    These seem to support the points already made. 11th Cyclists’ gallant stand at La Couture played a key part in preventing a gap being opened up in the Allied line, but this was the first time they had fought as a unit. Plugging a gap in the line is not doubt not what the divisional RE thought they would be doing, but sappers go anywhere, it says so on their hats (“Ubique, quo fas et gloria ducunt”).

    From the order of battle in the back of the book is seems that 55th Division had three RE field companies, and a pioneer battalion (1/4th South Lancs, as mentioned above). As the pioneers are there mainly to provide labour, I’m sure it would be an easier decision to fling them into the fight than to misuse fully-skilled sappers in that way.

    I heartily recommend the book to everyone, and not just because Phil’s a mate and I get a mention in the acknowledgements for my unpaid translation work.

    All the best,


    Andrew Rolph

    Thanks to both Robert and Tony for additional info.

    I think for the various cyclists I’ll roll them up with the divisional cavalry for the pre-game abstract reconnaissance game I am planning for each scenario.

    …engineer companies were usually spread out over the division…had a series of roles (demolition, road repair, minor bridging etc.)

    …and I think the engineer company will be tied to the divisional HQ unless there’s some scenario specific engineering type of work required in the area of a given btn. I don’t think anyone will put their divisional HQ in the front line.

    German Jaegers with cavalry divisions (I think they were technically Corps troops but not sure)…I use some signaller bases to indicate observer links back to artillery and divisional command.

    Tony of TTT

    Curiously in the specific units I am modelling there is also a complete jaeger btn in one of the infantry divisions (20th Infantry Division, 39. Infanterie-Brigade, Hannoversches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 10 (alongside the Hannoverian 79th and 164th regiments)).

    As for the remaining specialists (signallers etc) I think I’ll wrap them up into the Divisional HQ functions.

    Thanks for the input.





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