Battles - The Battle of Haelen, 1914

Corpses at HaelenThe Battle of Haelen, known as 'The Battle of the Silver Helmets' in Belgian folklore and fought on 12 August 1914, comprised the first cavalry action of the war.

It was fought at a river crossing at Haelen in Belgium, around 30km from the main Belgian line at Louvain. The significance of the engagement lay chiefly in its being the first cavalry attack of the war, although the Belgian army's success in driving back repeated German cavalry charges all day on the 12th was also worthy of note.

It was also one of the few setbacks encountered by the Germans during their successful invasion of neutral Belgium. Advance squadrons of Georg von der Marwitz's cavalry corps proved unable to defeat a single Belgian cavalry division under de Witte guarding the Haelen bridge, despite numerous attempts with sabres and lances from early in the morning.

De Witte repulsed the German cavalry attacks by ordering his men (which included a company of cyclists and another of pioneer engineers) to dismount and meet the attack with massed rifle fire, which succeeded in inflicting significant casualties upon the Germans.

Although the Belgian success was hailed by some as a huge setback to German ambitions - it wasn't - it did provide an early demonstration of the modern-day irrelevance of the cavalry in offensive situations.

In all the Germans suffering 150 dead, 600 wounded and some 200-300 prisoners; the number of dead horses was placed at around 400. Belgian losses totalled approximately 500.

Click here to view a map charting the progress of the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914.

"Harry Tate" was the nickname given by British pilots to the R.E.8 aircraft

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