Australian Light Horse were mounted troops with characteristics of both cavalry and mounted infantry. They served during the Second Boer War and World War I. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade at the Battle of Beersheba in 1917 made what is reputedly "the last successful cavalry charge in history".
A number of Australian light horse units are still in existence today, most notably of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry), now a light armoured unit equipped with an Australian version of the LAV-25.
Light horse were like mounted infantry in that they usually fought dismounted, using their horses as transport to the battlefield and as a means of swift disengagement when retreating or retiring. A famous exception to this rule though was the charge of the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. In 1918 some light horse regiments were equipped with sabres, enabling them to fight in a conventional cavalry role during the advance on Damascus. However, unlike mounted infantry, the light horse also performed certain roles, such as scouting and screening, while mounted.
The light horse were organised along cavalry rather than infantry lines. A light horse regiment was roughly equivalent to a battalion, but containing only about 600 men (an infantry battalion would contain about 1000 men). Around a quarter of this nominal strength (or one man in each section of 4) could be allotted to horse-holding duties when the regiment entered combat. A regiment was divided into three squadrons, designated "A", "B" and "C", (equivalent to a company) and a squadron divided into four troops (equivalent to but smaller than a platoon). Each troop was divided into about ten 4-man sections. When dismounting for combat, one man from each section would take the reins of the other three men's horses and lead them out of the firing line where he would remain until called upon.
Each regiment had a troop of two Maxim guns. At Gallipoli, where the light horse served dismounted, this was increased to four guns. In 1916, these were consolidated into light horse machine gun squadrons, each with 12 Vickers machine guns. In turn, the troops received the Lewis Gun. This was replaced by the Hotchkiss M1909 Benet-Mercie machine gun in April 1917. Eventually they arrived in such numbers as to allow each Troop to have a Hotchkiss gun which considerably added to the mobile fire power of Regiment considerably altering their combat tasking and activities.
The Australian Waler horse was the common mount for the light horsemen, as it was strong and hardy, which was needed in the harsh desert climate. This was facilitated by the horses being left behind in Egypt while the light horsemen went to Gallipoli, allowing them to gradually acclimatise.
The Australian Light Horse Regiments that served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign were organised into five Australian Light Horse Brigades. During February 1916, the Australian mounted troops of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Brigades and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade were placed together in the Anzac Mounted Division. A reorganisation of the mounted troops was ordered in February 1917 leading to the formation of the Anzac Mounted Division (1st, 2nd Light Horse Brigades, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, and British 22nd Yeomanry Brigade).
The Imperial Mounted Division was formed from the 3rd and 4th Light Horse Brigades and the British Yeomanry 5th and 6th Mounted Brigades. The Imperial Mounted Division's name was soon changed to the Australian Mounted Division at the request of the Australian government. The arrival of more yeomanry from Salonika prompted the raising of the Yeomanry Mounted Division (6th, 8th and 22nd Yeomanry Brigades) in June 1917. The three mounted divisions and the Imperial Camel Brigade formed the Desert Mounted Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Henry George Chauvel. With the removal of most of the Yeomanry to France and the break up of the Imperial Camel Corps, the newly formed 5th Light Horse Brigade took its place with the Australian Mounted Division. Two Indian cavalry divisions replaced the Yeomanry Division in the Desert Mounted Corps.
The 13th Light Horse Regiment and one squadron of the 4th Light Horse Regiment served on the Western Front, first as divisional cavalry squadrons for the 2nd, 4th and 5th Divisions, and then as the I Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment. A squadron of the 4th provided the divisional cavalry squadron for the 1st Division and one of the 14th Light Horse for the 3rd Division. In combination with New Zealand mounted troops, the squadron of the 4th became part of the II Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment. After the Australian Corps was formed in November 1917, the I Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment became known as the 13th Light Horse Regiment again.
After the war, the light horse regiments were distributed as follows:
Most Light Horse Regiments were converted to motorised infantry, armoured car or armoured regiments during World War II (See: Australian Armoured Units of World War II). The 20th Light Horse Regiment, as the 20th Motor Regiment, served overseas, at Merauke. The 1st Light Horse Regiment became the 1st Tank Battalion, and as such fought in New Guinea and Borneo.