I’ve just had the best quarter of an hour I’ve ever had in my life!

The Battle of Montcel-Frétoy — History’s Last Fight Between Mounted Lancers

The British Army’s 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers in action against German cavalry on Sept. 7, 1914. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)

“The action was quickly overshadowed by greater events, just as the traditional role of the cavalryman was overtaken by the realities of modern warfare.”

By Alexander Zakrzewski

ON THE morning of Sept. 7, 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel David Campbell, commander of the British Army’s 9th Lancers, was reconnoitering with about 30 men near the French village of Montcel-Frétoy, when he heard rifle fire in the distance.

It was the second day of the Battle of the Marne, the massive Allied effort to blunt the German drive on Paris and thwart the Kaiser’s plans for a quick and decisive victory on the Western Front. The trench war had not yet begun, and cavalry on both sides still had a crucial role to play.

Campbell was the epitome of the swashbuckling cavalry officer. A champion jockey and polo player, his nickname was “Soarer” after the horse on which he had won the Grand National in 1896. Just days earlier on Aug. 24, he had led the 9th Lancers in a costly and futile charge against German guns at Elouges, surviving unscathed.

Campbell positioned his tired men behind a haystack then rode out alone towards a nearby wood to see for himself what was going on. It was only 7:45 a.m., but the temperature that September day was already scorching hot; the heat haze made visibility difficult.

As he approached the wood, he spotted beneath the trees over a hundred Prussian Guard Dragoons. The enemy spotted him and gave chase. Campbell wheeled about and raced back to the haystack to alert his men. “Follow me, gentlemen,” he ordered coolly, and galloped towards the Germans, well ahead of his men.

From the village, the American journalist Frederic Coleman watched what was happening from the safety of his motorcar. He marveled at the way the German horsemen, “magnificent in the morning sun,” rode in a perfect line as though “mechanically propelled.” He also noted Campbell and his men, “riding like mad, full tilt” at the enemy.

As the two sides neared each other, the Germans lowered their lances to form, what Coleman described as a “disagreeable-looking wall” of steel blades. Campbell made straight for the troop leader and shot him down with his pistol, but was himself almost immediately knocked off his horse.

A furious melee ensued as his men smashed into the left side of the German line. Horses collided and reared, sending their riders crashing violently to the ground. One British trooper later told Coleman that he ran his lance into a German with such force that “his hand touched the doomed man’s breast.”

For the last time in British military history, lance met lance in bitter mounted combat. Sergeant James Taylor narrowly dodged the lance of the first Dragoon he met, cutting him down with his sword. As he watched Corporal Bolte skewer a German a few feet away, he was stabbed in the back and knocked unconscious. He survived, waking in a horse ambulance after the fighting.

The speed and surprise of the British charge shook the Germans, but their superior numbers soon began to tell. After about 15 minutes of fierce fighting, Major Beale-Brown rallied his Lancers and made for the village. The Germans initially gave chase but soon withdrew towards their own lines.

British casualties were three killed and five wounded. Among the dead was Lieutenant Allfrey, who perished while trying to a pull a German lance from the shoulder of Captain Reynolds. Reynolds survived despite his grievous wound.

German casualties are unknown, but based on eyewitness accounts, are likely to have been much higher. Brigadier-General Henry de Lisle, commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, arrived on the scene to find a trooper pulling his bloody weapon from the German he had impaled.

“Look, there is even blood on me ’and,” the trooper exclaimed proudly. Nearby de Lisle noticed another dead German literally pinned to his horse by a lance, the poor animal trying desperately to shake him off.

Campbell was found by a medical officer sprawled out in a field of clover with a pistol wound in his leg, a lance wound in his shoulder, and a sword wound in his arm.

“I am sorry to find you like this, sir,” said the officer. But Campbell, true to his reputation, was ecstatic: “Not at all, my boy! Not at all! I’ve just had the best quarter of an hour I’ve ever had in my life!”

The action at Montcel-Frétoy was quickly overshadowed by greater events, just as the traditional role of the cavalryman was overtaken by the realities of modern warfare.

However, the action understandably has a special place among British cavalry regiments to this day. In 2014, the 100th anniversary of Montcel-Frétoy was commemorated in a ceremony in France. The following year, the 9th Lancers were amalgamated with other regiments to form a single armoured cavalry regiment, the Royal Lancers.

Alexander Zakrzewski is a Toronto-based freelance writer with a passion for military history. He’s currently working on a book about obscure First World War battles and stories. Find more of his MHN contributions here.

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The Colt Gold Cup, an Accurate and Reliable Modern Masterpiece BY WILBURN ROBERTS

Colt Gold Cup and Target

The story of the Colt Gold Cup, National Match and Trophy 1911 handguns is a thrice-told tale that never grows old to some of us. The original 1911 design was to give soldiers every advantage in combat. While most handgun designs were for defensive use, the 1911 was an offensive handgun. Used in cavalry charges and in clearing a path through trenches, the .45 automatic was the greatest fighting handgun of its day. Many of us believe that this is still true.

After the war the National Rifle Association and the United States Army worked together to develop the National Matches. These matches involved long-range fire at small targets. The Springfield 1903 rifle design was for long rifle accuracy. The Colt 1911 was not, and needed considerable work to provide the specified accuracy at a long 50 yards. Colt had to rework the heavy trigger and small sights.

The heavy action, with its rapid reset, was practically ideal for defensive work. However, firing at 8-inch bull at 50 yards was another matter. The 1911 had been designed for reliability above all else. As long as the locking lugs and barrel bushing were properly fitted, it didn’t matter if the 1911 rattled when shaken—it would place five rounds of service ammunition into a 5-inch group or better at 25 yards.

Colt Gold Cup Trophy .45
The modern Colt Gold Cup is arguably the best target grade handgun Colt has ever produced.

The original military accuracy standards were for the 1911 to group five rounds into 5 inches at 25 yards, and 10 inches at 50 yards. Most would perform slightly better. This is generous by modern standards; however, the 1911 was a comparatively accurate handgun by standards of the day. For competition use, the 1911 needed to become roughly twice as accurate or better. A 4-inch 50-yard group was needed—or even smaller. Army gunsmiths went to work.

They polished and relieved the trigger action, fabricating lightweight triggers as they went along. Reduced trigger compression went from 6 to 8 pounds to 4 pounds or lighter. The barrel, welded up until it would not fit the slide, had the contact points carefully filed and polished into a tight fit. The fabricated target grade sights were not often adjustable during the first attempts at a target gun, however, they were large and easily picked up. The expense of such a handgun was prohibitive for civilian shooters. An Army gunsmith might work on the handgun for months, devoting his time to the team. Colt took notice and introduced the first National Match handguns.

Colt Gold Cup and Target
All Gold Cups have been famously accurate.

The factory National Match handguns received special treatment in fitting and trigger work as well as good high visibility sights. The original Colt was a great pistol. Over the years, the pistol incorporated various fully adjustable sight combinations including the Stevens, Elliason and Bomar.

The Gold Cup at one time became more of a target gun than an all around shooter. The slide was lightened about 1957. Many shooters did not like this as they preferred the original 39-ounce balance. The lightened slide facilitated function with lightly loaded target ammunition. The rear sight attached to the slide by a pin that sometimes worked loose. Later the Colt Gold Cup’s weight returned to standard. Along the top of the slide was an added rib. Many of these modifications meant the Colt Gold Cup was a pure breed target gun, and not necessarily an all around service gun. This has changed in recent years. The new Colt Gold Cup is a great all-around 1911 well suited to serous duty—but also a great target gun.

Colt Gold Cup Sights
The Gold Cups sights are ruggedly attached in the modern dovetail fashion.

The Gold Cup features sights solidly dovetailed into the slide. The front sight is a bold post while the monolithic rear unit is fully adjustable. This allows the shooter to regulate the sights for bullet weights of 160 to 260 grains.

If fitted with a lighter recoil spring, one may fire the Colt with loads as light as 185 grains at 750 fps. Such a load is a pure joy to fire, extremely accurate, and light on the gun. By changing the recoil spring the pistol may be set up for target loads, or +P loads as you prefer for different pursuits. A good addition to the field kit is the Wilson Combat ‘Spring Caddy.’ This kit contains a bushing wrench and a number of springs that allow the shooter to fine-tune the pistol for individual loads. Remember, a light recoil spring and full power ammunition will quickly batter the handgun. Match the spring to the load and you will have good results.

.45 Auto ammunition boxes of American Eagle, Federal Premium and Speer Gold Dot
The Colt proved accurate with a wide variety of ammunition.

In testing the newest Gold Cup, I collected a number of loads with proven accuracy potential. I carried the Colt in a Don Hume thumb break for range work.

The Federal 185-grain jacketed SWC is a target grade load that burns clean offers excellent accuracy potential. From a solid benchrest firing position, with concentration on the sight picture and trigger press, I was able to fire a 5-shot group at 15 yards that settled into 1.75 inches. Remarkably, the Federal American Eagle 230-grain subsonic load was nearly as accurate, with a 5-shot group of 2.0 inches. To confirm the Gold Cup’s performance with full power ammunition, I also fired two magazines of the Speer Gold Dot 230-grain load. A 40-ounce 1911 .45 is comfortable to fire with these loads.

With excellent accuracy off-hand, I loaded five more into the magazine and fired a 25-yard group with the Gold Dot loads. I was rewarded with a 1.75-inch dispersal. The Colt Gold Cup is among the best shooting 1911 handguns I have ever used.

Over 20 years ago, I stopped a young man for speeding. In a military uniform, he snapped to attention and saluted me. I suppose it was the lieutenant’s bars on my stiff brown uniform collar. I have no military experience and this was pretty funny at the time—of course he got just a warning. As he shook my hand he said, ‘Nice Colt’. I was carrying a 1970’s Colt National Match in a Don Hume holster. This is the type of thing memories are made of. The Colt is good enough for who it is for.


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