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"Cavalry’s Contribution to WWII" Topic


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©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0101 Apr 2017 12:35 p.m. PST

"It's one of the more famous moments of Word War Two — In September 1939, the beleaguered and hopelessly outclassed Polish army threw its antiquated cavalry regiments straight at invading German panzers with predictable results. In minutes, the obsolete horse guards were utterly decimated. And with them died an age-old European cavalry tradition — all of it swept away in a maelstrom of mechanized armour and heavy machine gun fire. There's only one catch: it didn't quite happen that way.

In fact, there is little or no compelling evidence that Polish cavalry ever did dash headlong into panzers to be slaughtered wholesale. The entire tale is one of the enduring myths of the Second World War, one that is alive and well nearly 75 years after the outbreak of the conflict.

The truth is that when they were deployed in the first days of the German invasion, the Polish cavalry frequently prevailed in battle. In a series of encounters in the opening days of the war Polish riders managed to break up German infantry formations, liberate captured towns and overrun fortified positions…"
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Amicalement
Armand

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP01 Apr 2017 1:23 p.m. PST

Yeah, that jibes with some of what I've read. Seems that the Soviet cavalry also did good service, when used in an intelligent way. Didn't the Red Army maintain large horse cavalry formations all the way until the end of the war, and maybe even beyond?

Were the Russian and Spanish cavalry units tapped for use as extras in movies in the post-WWII era still combat units, or purely ceremonial by that time?

Yeah, I could look this stuff up on my own, but I figure there's TMPers who know this stuff right off the top of their heads and would be glad to share the info and other arcane, related facts.

Dave Jackson Supporting Member of TMP01 Apr 2017 2:03 p.m. PST

This I an excellent book on the subject:

link

Mako11 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member01 Apr 2017 2:21 p.m. PST

Can't say, but do recall Panzerblitz having little cardboard chits for them, in their rules.

Always thought that to be a bit anachronistic at the time.

Didn't realize as a young pup that the German Army's logistics depended largely on horse-born transport either, especially early on in the war.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP01 Apr 2017 2:46 p.m. PST

It wasnt just Poland and Russia. Many countries maintained cavalry units, in some case quite a few, up until the end of the war. Others include China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan and Romania to name just a few.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP01 Apr 2017 5:09 p.m. PST

Soviet Army cavalry units, as well as infantry units, were used in the filming of Waterloo (1980). link

Jim

Rod I Robertson Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member01 Apr 2017 7:02 p.m. PST

Piper909:

Yes, you are quite correct about Soviet regular cavalry. Soviet Deep Battle doctrine paired Soviet Cavalry with Armoured forces to provide tanks operating deep behind enemy front lines with highly mobile and logistically less dependant infantry support. Such cavalry forces almost always fought dismounted as de facto infantry. Their ability to live off the land allowed Soviet logistic efforts to concentrate more on keeping the tanks supplied with fuel, lubricants, parts and ammunition. This was also true of the more irregular Cossack cavalry units but being irregular they sometimes left Soviet military doctrine behind and operated or just rampaged and pillaged independently.

Some of my favorite wargame scenarios pit Soviet armoured cars or Soviet tanks supported by mobile cavalry against bewildered German rear-area units using obsolescent kit, handed down to security forces. It's a great way to get some extra life out of those captured R-35 tanks, Pz I's, Pz II's, FT-17's, SdKfz-231 (6 rad), etc. long after their front-line operational lives came to a close.

Cheers and good gaming.
Rod Robertson.

Tango0102 Apr 2017 3:19 p.m. PST

Quite interesting Rod!.


Amicalement
Armand

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2017 4:15 p.m. PST

As the OP states, the story of the hapless Polish lancers charging the modern powerful Panzers is nothing but a German WW2 propaganda story that refuses to die, despite well researched and detailed accounts of the actual action in question.

However that does not mean there weren't many cavalry forces in action in WW2. The great majority fought as horse-mobile infantry rather than as true cavalry (ie: used horses to get around, but dismounted to fight on foot). But there were the occasional mounted combats as well.

The U.S. Army maintained mounted cavalry up until 1942. The last U.S. Army mounted cavalry actions were taken by Troop G of the 26th Regiment of the Philippine Scouts under Lt. Ramsey at the village of Morong in January of 1942. A full year and a half after the supposed hapless charge of the Polish Lancers against German tanks, the U.S. cavalry did in fact conduct a mounted charge against Japanese tanks, with some success. Interestingly the first THREE Congressional Medals of Honor given to U.S. Army service members in WW2 all went to members of the U.S. Army Philippine Scouts.

But by that time the U.S. Army was well into the transition from mounted cavalry to mech cavalry. After the fall of Bataan, no more U.S. Cavalry units went to war on horseback.

The Soviets had the largest cavalry in WW2, operating full cavalry divisions and corps. Red Army cavalry numbers peaked in 1942/1943, as horses were still "in production" throughout the 1942 period when so many tank factories had to be re-located. By 1944 the numbers were in decline, but they were, as others have mentioned, still seen as a useful exploitation force deep behind enemy lines. Despite propaganda pictures of saber charges, most Soviet cavalry fought as mounted infantry. Although as an interesting nod to their history, Russian cavalry carbines did not have any provision for mounting bayonets (after all, what self-respecting cavalryman would pass the opportunity to draw his shaska (saber) if he got within blade-range of the enemy.

The Italians had several mounted cavalry units in action on the Russian front. The Savoia Cavalry Regiment is sometimes credited as making the last cavalry charge, for it's successful action against the Soviet 812th Regiment (304th Rifle Division) at Izbushensky in August of 1942. But while no other case of a "pure" cavalry charge come to mind (meaning cavalry was the principle attacking force, rather than just a supporting arm), there are certainly other later mounted actions.

The Romanians maintained a substantial number of mounted cavalry formations (listed with the historical designations of both the Calarasi and Rosiori regiments). They tended to fight as mounted infantry, were quite active on the Eastern Front (particularly in the Crimea), and the Germans considered them to be some of the most effective Romanian formations.

The French had several mounted formation types at the start of the war. After the fall of France most formations, whether in the Free French or Vichy forces, became mechanized.


The exception were the local cavalry forces -- in particular the Spahi's of Algeria and Morocco, and the Camel-mountd Meharisti. The Spahis received some motorized support, but were primarily mounted through the end of the Tunisian campaign in 1943, only then becoming full mech cavalry.

The Germans operated a few cavalry formations on the Eastern Front, including a few Cossack formations raised among captured or occupied populations (why the German Cossack formations seem to appear in so many wargaming vendor lists I've never quite understood). The Japanese also operated mounted cavalry formations in China. I expect the Chinese had several as well. But I know little of these.


I have seen this pic variously described as Romanian cavalry on the Eastern Front, and Japanese cavalry in China. Hard to say which it is, but it does illustrate one aspect of cavalry that is little modelled in wargaming. Horses have the ability to cross a lot of water obstacles or rough ground that would stop most vehicle traffic … certainly wheeled vehicles but even a lot of tracked vehicles. A horse-mounted unit would typically not give a second through to crossing a 30 or 50 meter-wide, 1 or 2 meter deep river. Trucks? Not so much.

Of course if your horse cavalry is accompanied by horse-limbered AT guns or supply wagons, that's a different story. But as a way of getting riflemen around to where your enemy does not expect them, there was much to be said for horses in WW2.

So yeah, lots of horses around, and the Poles, while getting the short end of the historical perceptions stick, were clearly not the last, nor even among the last.

Or so I've read…

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Bindon Blood03 Apr 2017 4:40 a.m. PST

Wasn't there a successful cavalry charge by the Tibetans against the Chinese in the 1950s too?

Murvihill03 Apr 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

"Russian cavalry carbines did not have any provision for mounting bayonets"

I don't own an M38 Mosin Nagant carbine, but just eyeballing it I suspect you could fit a 91/30 bayonet on one. They didn't issue them to cavalry though.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2017 5:13 p.m. PST

I have seen this pic variously described as Romanian cavalry on the Eastern Front, and Japanese cavalry in China. Hard to say which it is, but it does illustrate one aspect of cavalry that is little modelled in wargaming. Horses have the ability to cross a lot of water obstacles or rough ground that would stop most vehicle traffic … certainly wheeled vehicles but even a lot of tracked vehicles.

Seems I broke the link from one of the pics in my prior posting. So here I am re-posting it with a new link.

I don't own an M38 Mosin Nagant carbine, but just eyeballing it I suspect you could fit a 91/30 bayonet on one. They didn't issue them to cavalry though.

Ah, but I do. And you can't.

I own an M38 (well, actually an M59, but identical in all aspects to an M38 except the rear site) and an M91/30 (with bayonet). You can not put the bayonet on the M38. Won't fit over the front site (which would be necessary to lock it in place).

The same is true for the M91 Dragoon Rifle, and the M07 Cavalry Carbine.

And although the M38 was not designed specifically for cavalry (as the earlier carbine had been), it was indeed issued to them.

An interesting aspect of the Mosin rifles in Russian service is that the rifleman was typically not provided with a scabbard of any type for the bayonet. When not in a combat zone the soldier was expected to mount the bayonet backwards on the muzzle (so that it lay alongside the barrel). Since you couldn't fire the rifle with the bayonet backwards on the muzzle, and there was no other place to carry it, the rifleman would always need to fix the bayonet before going in to combat, whether hand-to-hand action was expected or not. In fact rifles' sites were set and proofed with the bayonet in place, and are typically off by 3-4 inches at 100 yards without them. If a Russian rifleman did not mount his bayonet, he would a) have no where to keep it (and woe be unto he who lost State property!) and b) his gun would not shoot straight. So your Russian miniatures should almost always be modeled with a fixed bayonet!

It was only after reports came back that riflemen preferred the shorter carbines in the city fighting in Stalingrad that thought was given to providing for a bayonet on a carbine. Rather than building a new bayonet to fit the carbine's front site, the result was the M44 carbine, with the bayonet permanently attached (swivel mounted to lay alongside the barrel when not in use).

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Legion 404 Apr 2017 7:22 a.m. PST

However that does not mean there weren't many cavalry forces in action in WW2. The great majority fought as horse-mobile infantry rather than as true cavalry (ie: used horses to get around, but dismounted to fight on foot). But there were the occasional mounted combats as well.

That is the way I understood it … more like horse mounted Infantry. Horses were just another transport method. Like a truck, APC, the rear deck of a tank, etc., …

Like Dragoons :

The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills.

Barin104 Apr 2017 8:19 a.m. PST

very interesting article (in Russian) on Soviet cavalry.
link
Some facts I was not aware of:
- in 1943 Soviet cavalry forces were ca. 250K – increase from 1941
- Germans used over 3 mln horses on Eastern front (but of course, mostly for logistics).
- Each German infantry division had ca 6000 horses, Russian division – ca.3000
- Russia got ca. 0,5mil horses from Mongolia
- Last cavalry fight took place near Budapest in 1945 where Soviet cavalry attacked SS cavalry regiment.
- 2 cavalry units lasted till 1954, when one was disbanded, and another transformed into tank unit

some interesting pics here:
link

Tango0104 Apr 2017 11:02 a.m. PST

Many thanks Barin!!! (smile)

Quite interesting …


Amicalement
Armand

Legion 405 Apr 2017 7:08 a.m. PST

Good intel Barin !

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