German cavalry patrol in gas masks and carrying lances, 1918

The photograph shows a German cavalryman carrying a steel lance patrolling behind the front lines. German lances were hollow tubes made of rolled steel, with a length of 3.2 m. They were usually made in three sections fitted together.

It weighed 1.6kg and was very well balanced when placed halfway down in the leather-wrapped grip. Before the outbreak of World War I, there was controversy over whether lances or sabers were more effective "arms blanche" (that is, edged weapons) for cavalry, but neither proved to be a match for modern firearms.

In general, soldiers could retreat faster than they could advance, so in an era when "breakthrough" machines (tanks, armored cars) either did not exist or were slower than men on the move, cavalry was given the task of harassing the retreating army. An attempt to convert their retreat into a path and prevent them from forming a defensive position further.

So the cavalry was meant not to charge into the teeth of machine guns, but to charge in groups of men as they fell behind, hoping to drop whatever discipline they had.

Large bodies of cavalry from both sides were on "standby" throughout the Western Front when they launched major offensives, in the hope that they could break through the enemy's line and cause a small tear in the cavalry line to become a giant. Could have changed at the opening.

However, the offensive tactics used on the Western Front from 1914 to early 1917 reduced the ability of cavalry to fulfill this role – week-long artillery barrages allowed the opposition to prepare secondary lines of defense and Time to fetch the stock to fill those lines.

So instead of charging into a disorganized mass of retreating men they found freshly constructed trenches and machine guns - exactly what they were meant to stop. Therefore cavalry was of little use.

However German Lancer units were more usefully employed in the war against Russia as the fighting was more fluid and less weighted by the barbed wire trenches that bound the Western Front.

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