Horse cavalry, like an insurance policy, is expensive
but nice to have around when you really need it. In
Russia, where horsemanship is part of the every-day
life of many thousands of people, the Red Army is able
to maintain one of the finest horse-mounted components
in the world. Here is the doctrine with which
Soviet cavalrymen rode to victory in World War II.
The Red Army, unlike the rest of the Allied powers, did not relegate the horse
cavalry into the discard during World War II. Instead, Soviet Russia made effective
use of its cavalry components, and even increased the number of horse cavalry
units. The U.S.S.R. proved that the employment of horse cavalry as an independent
striking force, and as a component of a cavalry-tank team, is clearly justified. The
results obtained by Red Army cavalry units have proven the right of the almost
legendary Cossack to remain part of the armed forces of the U.S.S.R. The lessons
learned may well be studied by other countries.
Horse cavalry has always played a large part in Russian military campaigns. Russian
cavalry forces have been known in every war in which Russia's troops have fought. During
the reign of Czar Ivan the Terrible, a relatively small Cossack force under Ermak
achieved the conquest and annexation of Siberia. The great distances, unmarked by
roads, and the difficult terrain of that area were tailor-made for a cavalry operation.
Even to this day there large areas of flat plains and steppes in the U.S.S.R. that
have only a limited network of roads. Easy traverse of these areas is feasible only
to horses. Climatic conditions in Eastern Europe, especially during the spring thaws,
place a very stringent limitation on all movement, except over first-class
highways. Each spring the Ukraine, White Russia, and Eastern Poland become veritable
seas of almost unbelievably deep mud. In consequence, cavalry has been an
indispensable arm of the Red Army, even in this war of mechanized and motorized forces.
Since 1917, when the Red Army took over the forces of the Czar, the cavalry units
of the Red Army have undergone many changes. Among other things, the over-all
strength of the cavalry arm has been increased. During World War II, the Red Army
had approximately 10 cavalry corps. Other changes have increased the fire power
of cavalry units by adding mortars; more and heavier artillery, including
self-propelled; more automatic weapons including submachine guns; and by
making tank regiments an integral part of cavalry corps.
Further emphasis is placed on the Red Army evaluation of horse cavalry as a
fighting arm by the establishment, since 1934, of 74 stud farms, geographically
located to breed horses best suited to the locality. The farms are operated by
the Red Army Remount Service.
To be a cavalryman in the Red Army, a Soviet soldier does not have to be a Cossack.
And, contrary to popular belief, the Cossacks have no monopoly over the cavalry arm.
Cossack units, like the Kuban Cossacks (above), are recruited among the life-long
horsemen of Kuban area of the U.S.S.R. But cavalrymen are also recruited from
other areas, and although they may lack the glamour of the Cossack, they are
none-the-less efficient soldiers. Such a non-Cossack cavalry unit is pictured below.
Red Army cavalry organization differs considerably from the organization of
U.S. cavalry units. Numerically, Red Army units are the smaller. A Soviet
cavalry corps is roughly equal numerically to a reinforced U.S. horse cavalry
division. Within the Red Army cavalry corps, also, are from two to four tank
regiments as organic elements of the corps. The U.S.S.R. cavalry regiment is
so designed as to provide a small and mobile striking force, heavily reinforced
by supporting weapons. Numerically equal to less than half a Red Army infantry
regiment, the U.S.S.R. cavalry regiment has almost as much fire power in
In the cavalry corps, the artillery elements play no small part. The corps
artillery commander has at his disposal five artillery regiments, armed with
a variety of weapons. The type and relative numbers of artillery weapons
are selected to achieve maximum flexibility and shock power without impairing
the mobility of the corps. Including mortars and artillery of the cavalry
divisions, the cavalry corps has nearly 350 pieces of artillery, plus
several multiple rocket launchers. This is sufficient to throw, in a
single salvo, a metal weight of more than 6 tons.
CAVALRY IN THE OFFENSE
Red Army doctrine stresses that cavalry should be used as an independent
striking force; that cavalry is not a substitute for mechanized forces, but
is a powerful force for operations where motorized units are handicapped by
impassable terrain. By Red Army definition, cavalry is capable of taking part
in every kind of engagement, and of carrying out actions of every type in
cooperation with other arms; in addition to being able to operate independently.
Operating apart from other troops, horse cavalry attempts to strike the enemy flank
or rear, to encircle and destroy the main body, and to cooperate generally with air
forces, armored units, airborne units, and frontal assault groups. Other cavalry
missions are large-scale raids, screening of troop movements of other arms, and
counterattacks against the enemy flanks and far from concealed areas in the rear
of a defensive position.
The crew of an 85-mm SP gun and tank destroyer, on a T34 tank chassis, ride their
weapon through a town in Rumania. These weapons are organic equipment of the two
tank regiments within the Soviet cavalry corps.
T34 medium tanks on the road in Manchuria. Like the tank destroyers, they are
the organic armored strength within the two tank regiments of the cavalry corps.
Cavalry can operate in very severe climatic conditions and over severely
cut-up terrain. Over extremely difficult terrain, Red Army cavalry
can average 5 miles
per hour. Small units are unable to maintain continuous movement for long periods under
combat conditions due to lack of organic transport and difficulty of resupply. Large
units, however, with a sizeable supply train and an established resupply system, can
operate for much longer periods and over long distances. One reinforced cavalry corps
was given the mission of penetrating behind German lines and advancing for 60 miles
parallel to the front and across the enemy lines of communication, thus effecting a
junction with another cavalry corps in the area. The movement was entirely through
forests and crosscountry in 2 feet of snow, with temperatures as low as 30 degrees
below zero. In 6 days, the corps traveled 55 miles and captured large supplies of
Red Army conception of cavalry raids extends to larger operations, over a longer
period of time, and with a larger body of troops than is normally considered as a raid
by U.S. doctrine. One raid made during World War II included a whole corps and
lasted for 135 days, much of the fighting being behind the enemy lines.
In the breakthrough, Red Army cavalry was a valuable asset to the pursuit. When an
enemy rear guard attempted to hold up the pursuit, the cavalry was able to make wide
flanking movements through swamps and other difficult terrain to strike the retreating
enemy in the flanks and to set up road blocks. In addition, the Soviets believe
cavalry is useful in attacking enemy artillery and salient terrain features to
protect highways along which armor and self-propelled artillery can then advance
It is a Red Army practice to detach small cavalry units from the main body to reduce
by-passed strongpoints. Here the cavalry attacks dismounted from all sides, supported
by their mortars and machine guns. Generally these detached units are of sufficient
strength to reduce the strongpoint quickly so that they can rejoin the main body of
Cavalry is used by the U.S.S.R., in conjunction with other arms, in the same manner
in which it is used by other armies. Cavalry is used for reconnaissance,
counterreconnaissance, screening, and patrol missions. The Soviets make extensive
use of night cavalry reconnaissance and raids, particularly during winter weather.
With infantry, Red Army cavalry is used to great advantage. While the infantry
holds the enemy with a frontal attack, the entire mass of cavalry and tanks are
thrown in on the enemy flank and rear.
The best time to commit a cavalry force, the Red Army believes, is when an
initial penetration of enemy defenses has been made by a frontal or enveloping
attack. At that time, when the enemy is bringing up his reserves and his defenses
are in a fluid state, the enemy has not had time to consolidate and organize
any strong defensive position, and cavalry will encounter conditions that are
conducive to success.
|A Tchanka machine gun cart for Maxim M1910 7.62-mm machine gun rolls across the
steppes of Russia. This is a weapon of the cavalry heavy machine gun squad.|
Cossack artillerymen, men of the 76.2-mm howitzer battery of a cavalry regiment, go
into action in the North Caucasus.
|A Cossack cavalry patrol receives orders and instructions before departing on a
reconnaissance mission. Red Army cavalry, unlike our own, carry their weapons slung on
their back or chest, instead of in a rifle boot snapped to the saddle.|
CAVALRY IN DEFENSE
In defense, Red Army cavalry is used to cover the withdrawal and to protect the
flanks and gaps between units. In extreme conditions, the cavalry troopers dismount
and engage in defensive combat as infantry. Care is always taken to conceal horses
in a defiladed area for safety and to facilitate withdrawal. In the defense of road
blocks or tactically important terrain, the organic artillery and mortars are the
basic defensive weapons upon which the Soviet cavalry relies.
Immediately after the Russian Civil War, the cavalry forces were led mostly by
ex-Czarist officers who joined the Red Army. Then an officer cavalry school was
established to develop cavalry officers of proletarian origin. This school later
became the Buddennyi Red Army Cavalry Academy of Moscow, and is now the highest
cavalry institute in the U.S.S.R. During the war there were nine cavalry officer
training schools in operation.
Enlisted men and NCO's were trained in replacement cavalry regiments. There
were 34 of these regiments during the war.
|Don Cossack guardsmen, members of an elite Red Army cavalry
regiment, rest in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains after action
on the Second Ukrainian front. The broad-bladed sabre is the
traditional weapon of these horsemen.|
The cavalry courses at officers schools have ranged from 3 years in peacetime, prior
to 1937, to 12 months during the war. Enlisted men serve 2 years in the cavalry army
in peacetime. During the war, basic training for enlisted personnel lasted
8 months. During this time the enlisted man was trained in field tactics, individual
weapons, elementary topography, care of horses and equipment.
The U.S.S.R., with vast distances and few roads, and with severe climatic conditions
during much of the year, has used horse cavalry to great advantage during World War II.
By the results achieved, the Soviets have justified the use of cavalry, not as a
substitute for armor and mechanized forces, but as an independent arm and as a
supplement to armor and mechanized might in operations over severe terrain.
Russian cavalry has great power in supporting weapons. The organization is so
designed as to provide a small and mobile striking force with adequate support
of artillery, mortars, and automatic weapons. Cavalry and tanks have been combined
into a smooth working and effective organization.
In World War II, as in most all of their other wars, the Russians were able to use
large masses of horse cavalry, since much of the fighting took place within the borders
or countries adjacent to their homeland. But over long distances, cavalry is not as
economical. Transport of horses and equipment, especially ocean transport such as would
have been necessary for the United States in the Pacific War, requires a large allotment
of transportation facilities. In fact, the U.S. did maintain one horse cavalry regiment
briefly in New Caledonia early in the war, but this unit was mounted on horses shipped
from Australia. The unit existed as a horse-mounted organization only briefly, for it
was eventually dismounted and sent into infantry action elsewhere in the Southwest
Pacific. The only U.S. horse-mounted cavalry regiment to see action in World War II
was the 26th Cavalry, a regiment of Philippine Scouts who covered the withdrawal
of U.S. and Philippine forces to Bataan peninsula. This unit fought a classic cavalry
rear-guard action from Lingayan to Bataan. Its mission was accomplished, although
the regiment was virtually annihilated.