Doctrine Chapter 4
COMBAT AND POST WAR REVIEW 1944-1945
In June 1944 the United States Army and its allies, executed the long awaited cross channel invasion beginning the final stage of World War II. Cavalry units, organized in corps cavalry groups, separate squadrons and divisional squadrons and troops, played a key role in the European Campaign and tested their evolving doctrine and associated organization and equipment. The course of operations in Europe demonstrated that published cavalry doctrine still did not meet the requirements of the battlefield. Doctrine did not address the breadth of the tactical missions that cavalry was required to perform, nor did it hint at the operational role cavalry played in the theater.
Until the campaigns in Northwest Europe, the United States Army had only limited opportunities to execute multiple corps operations. These had been in the restricted maneuver space of Sicily and Italy where the conditions of terrain and enemy had severely limited the ability to employ mechanized forces and fight a war of maneuver. The European campaign was different. Generally open or mixed terrain with few significant mountain ranges, it was ideal for mounted maneuver. Events would also provide operational and tactical opportunities to employ mechanized cavalry in a wide variety of roles and missions. What these roles and missions were, and how well cavalry fulfilled them would be the final test of World War II cavalry doctrine, organization, and equipment. The result would become the corner stone of the US Army's view of cavalry for the next fifty years.
The previous chapters described mechanized cavalry doctrine as it was written prior to the war, executed in North Africa, and then adjusted prior to the Normandy landings. The nature of the campaigns prior to 1944 focused the Army's doctrinal analysis at the tactical level. The campaigns in Northwest Europe continued to refine the tactical doctrine of cavalry, but they also provided, for the first time in the war, the Army the opportunity to demonstrate how mechanized cavalry should be employed at the operational level of war.
The operational level of war fights campaigns using as its primary elements field armies and corps. During World War II a US field army or corps commander had a variety of tools to utilize to fight his unit in the form of independent combat, combat support, and service support units. Unique among the corps and army troops, and one of the most valuable, was the cavalry group.
General Lesley McNair, Chief of Army Ground Forces, conceived the group concept as an economical and flexible means of organizing corps and higher units to replace the regimental system that existed prior to 1942.(1) The cavalry group consisted of a group headquarters and headquarters troop but no other assigned units. Two cavalry reconnaissance squadrons were attached to each group. Depending on the mission and situation the corps or army commander could tailor the group organization by adding additional squadrons, other combat units, and additional combat support and service units as required. Within a month of the June 6, 1944 landings, two cavalry groups arrived to support the operations of the First US Army, the 4th and the 106th Cavalry Groups. With the activation of the Third Army in August 1944, the 3d, 2d and the 6th Cavalry Groups were committed to combat. By May 1945 a total of thirteen cavalry groups were in combat in Europe.
FM 2-15, Employment of Cavalry, dated 1941, FM 100-5, Field Service Regulations, dated 1944, and FM 100-17, Field Service Regulations for Larger Units, dated 1942, were the primary doctrinal guides available to senior officers (corps and army commanders and their staffs) on how to employ cavalry in support of other Arms. As discussed in Chapter 2, FM 2-15 was written for a horse mounted cavalry organization that used armored cars and a small number of tanks to conduct reconnaissance for horse units. The manual primarily focused on employment of the horse cavalry division and regiment, discussing mechanized cavalry only in a reconnaissance or supporting role for horse units.
Two versions of FM 100-5 were used by the Army in World War II. The first was published in 1941, just prior to the start of the war, and the other was published at the time of the Normandy invasion, June 1944. Surprisingly, with regard to cavalry, the 1944 version did not differ significantly from the 1941 edition. It did not recognize mechanized cavalry as an equal partner to horse cavalry, judging the value of the former as chiefly in reconnaissance. It did not reflect the reality or the combat experience of the mechanized cavalry force of 1944, but persisted to discuss horse cavalry at length.(2) The only concession to the combat lessons regarding reconnaissance and mechanized cavalry learned in Africa in 1943 was the inclusion of fire and maneuver as additions to stealth, as techniques that mechanized cavalry utilized to conduct reconnaissance.(3) The manual did reflect, however, the general knowledge of cavalry employment on the part of the senior leadership in Army and in Europe. FM 100-17 did not discuss cavalry at all except to refer the reader to FM 100-5.
How cavalry was employed depended on the senior leadership of the Army, primarily the corps commanders who had operational control of the cavalry groups. Cavalry groups were Army assets which were normally allocated one per corps. Corps commanders and their staffs were generally not cavalrymen themselves and relied on FM 2-15 and FM 100-5 as their doctrinal references. In the absence of horse cavalry, commanders and staffs applied traditional cavalry missions as outlined in FM 2-15 and FM 100-5 to the mechanized cavalry groups under their control.
The 1941 version of FM 2-15 was MG John Herr's vision of how to fight horse cavalry at the regimental level and higher. In particular, it focused on the role of large cavalry formations on the battlefield. Its most basic tenet was that "the primary mission of Cavalry is combat."(4) It outlined specific operational missions of cavalry as defensive, offensive, reconnaissance, security, liaison, and special operations.(5) This was in accordance with FM 100-5, 1944, which stated the role of cavalry was attack, pursuit, holding critical objectives, and special operations.(6) This in fact is how cavalry was employed in the European theater of operations. The difference between doctrine and reality however, was that rather than horse cavalry regiments executing the cavalry doctrine, in 1944 and 1945 it was mechanized cavalry groups and squadrons.
Post war analysis indicates some startling realities regarding the missions given to cavalry groups in the European theater during World War II. Reconnaissance, the mission originally envisioned for mechanized cavalry made up only 3% of cavalry group operations (as measured in number of days committed to combat). In contrast, defense, probably the mission for which mechanized cavalry was least well equipped and organized, was executed 33% of the time. The analysis also revealed that special operations (29%), offensive (10%), and security missions (25%) were also conducted more often than reconnaissance. In armored divisions the cavalry squadron performed reconnaissance missions only slightly more often (13%).(7)
Cavalry groups executed defensive missions more often than any other mission. FM 15-2 indicated that cavalry would only be used for limited defense until it could be relieved by other arms.(8) In fact cavalry groups not only defended often, they defended the same positions for long periods of time, sometimes for several months. Defensive missions were specifically terrain oriented, as opposed to security missions which were oriented on protecting another friendly force, and used many combinations of defensive and offensive techniques to accomplish that purpose. Cavalry proved to be a very effective force for defensive missions.
There were legitimate operational reasons why mechanized cavalry was used for defensive operations. One reason was the general shortage of infantry experienced by the Army during the European campaign. This shortage was so severe that General Patton twice levied his rear echelon units for infantry replacements.(9) The units best equipped in terms of fire power and training to replace infantry were cavalry groups, particularly in defensive situations that were considered low risk. Cavalry weapon systems permitted a single cavalry platoon to put out more automatic weapons and cannon fire than an entire infantry company. At the same time cavalry had the capability and training to dismount and dig in like infantry. The unit's mobility, combined with its ability to operate dismounted, made it appear larger than it was, and provided a combat appearance similar to that of an infantry unit. Finally, its command and control capability (measured in terms of numbers, distribution, and range of radio systems) was greatly superior to that of an equivalent infantry unit. For all these reasons, in defensive situations cavalry was frequently substituted for infantry.
All of these characteristics were reinforced by FM 2-15, which indicated that cavalry was capable of attacking and defending dismounted.(10) It is doubtful that higher commanders recognized that FM 2-15 intended dismounted combat for horse cavalry only, and that it was not doctrinally advocated for mechanized cavalry by either squadron or troop doctrine in FM 2-30 or FM 2-20. The reality in the European theater was that commanders did not have enough infantry and felt that cavalry were the best substitute, and used them in this role often.
Another reason cavalry was used to replace infantry in defensive situations was the desire of commanders to mass combat power at the decisive point on the battlefield. Cavalry was ideally suited to covering disproportionately large areas of ground due to its mobility, automatic weapons fire power, command and control capability, and combined arms characteristics. This permitted corps and army commanders to execute operations in accordance with the principles of economy of force and mass. By substituting cavalry for infantry in the defense, commanders were able to mass infantry units for employment at more decisive sectors of the front. Applying the principle of economy of force, commanders accepted risk by spreading cavalry forces over large frontages in order to achieve the greatest combat power for decisive offensive, and occasionally defensive, action. Commanders counted on the characteristics of cavalry to provide them with time and space to maneuver if the enemy reacted in an unexpected manner. This method of employing cavalry was widely practiced by corps commanders throughout the European theater of Operations.
The employment of the 14th Cavalry Group by VIII Corps in December 1944 is a good example of cavalry being used to defend due to the lack of infantry. The 14th Cavalry consisted of the 18th and 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadrons. It was deployed in defensive positions astride an avenue of approach flowing directly from the German border into the Belgium Ardennes Forest.
The primary reason the cavalry group was employed in this defensive mission was the size of the VIII Corps front.(11) VIII Corps was deployed in what was considered a quiet sector of the First Army. Generally it was considered one of the areas least likely for German offensive action due to the general low estimate of the German's military capability, and particularly, due to the rugged forest and mountainous terrain. For these reasons, VIII Corps was defending a 145 kilometer front with only four divisions, three times what doctrine prescribed for a force of this size.(12) Due to the size of the sector, the corps commander was forced to utilize his cavalry group in a defensive mission to ensure all avenues of approach were covered and to stayed tied into V Corps on his left.(13) Thus on the eve of the infamous German counteroffensive, known as "The Battle of the Bulge," VIII Corps had deployed its elements from left to right: 14th Cavalry Group, 106th Infantry Division; 28th Infantry Division; 9th Armored Division (minus), and 4th Infantry Division (see figure 25). The corps held out the reserve combat command of the 9th Armored Division as the corps reserve.
Figure 25. VIII Corps Dispositions, December 1944.
The 14th Cavalry was commanded by Colonel Mark Devine,(14) and had previously been involved in the siege of Brest. On the eve of the German Ardennes offensive it was deployed with one squadron, the 18th CRS, commanded by LTC Bill Damon, occupying defensive positions over a frontage approximately 7 miles.(15) Each of its two cavalry troops occupied a series of platoon strong points (the third troop, Troop B, was detached to the 106th Infantry Division). An attached tank destroyer company, Company A, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was concentrated in the northern portion of the squadron sector. Squadron headquarters, as well as Troops E and F, were located in the town of Manderfeld.(16) The 18th CRS had been in position since October, most of that time attached to the veteran 2d Infantry Division. The group headquarters had assumed control of the area only on 11 December. The other squadron, the 32nd CRS, commanded by LTC Paul Ridge was located in the vicinity of Vielsalm, 20 miles to the rear of group headquarters, and was in the process of conducting refitting operations. Its mission was group reserve.(17)
The 18th CRS was deployed in platoon and troop strong points, each centered on a village. This was a typical tactical deployment which resulted from a variety of considerations: the stone house of the villages offered significant protection from both the weather and enemy fire; all major avenues of approach had to pass directly through the villages; and there were simply not enough personnel to maintain a continuous front between the 106th Division to the group's south, and V Corps' 99th Division to the north. The forest and trails between the troops and platoons were covered by constant mounted and dismounted patrolling (see figure 26).
The attack of 18th Volksgrenadier Division (VGD)(18) of the German Fifth Panzer Army, and the 3 Parachute Division of the Sixth Panzer Army struck the 18th CRS on the morning of 16 December.(19) One regiment of the 18th VGD hit Troop A in the south, while the 3d Parachute Division hit Troop C and the Tank Destroyer Company.
Figure 26. 14th Cavalry Group Positions, 16 December, 1944.
The tank destroyer platoons, equipped with 3 inch towed guns, were quickly overrun. Without infantry support the company was forced to destroy or abandoned its guns in place and withdrew to Manderfeld.(20) This in effect turned the flank of the squadron. Almost simultaneously, Troops A and C were surrounded and cut off. Throughout the day both troops exacted a heavy toll on the Germans as they attempted to overrun the strong points with combined armor and infantry attacks. Troop C alone accounted for over 200 German dead during the day. (21) However, by the afternoon, after counterattacks by Troop F failed to break through to the units, the remnants of both cavalry troops were ordered to withdraw. Troop C was able to fight its way out by 1630, saving most of its personnel, and some of its equipment. The platoons of Troop A in Kobscheid infiltrated out during darkness after destroying their vehicles.(22) The rest of Troop A, in Roth, ran out of ammunition and surrendered about 1300 after German assault guns began firing directly into their positions from a range of 75 yards. Three Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded as a result of the intense fighting in the forward troop positions.(23)
As Troops A and C of the 18th CRS fought in their forward positions, the 32d CRS arrived in Manderfeld. Colonel Devine immediately ordered its elements to counterattack to the north and east to reestablish the group's original positions and relieve the forward elements of the 18th CRS.(24) These counterattacks failed, and as night fell on 16 December, the 32d CRS was fighting to maintain the group positions around Manderfeld.
On the 17 December the German offensive picked up momentum and swarmed around the 14th Group's flanks. Physical contact was lost with both the 106th and 99th Divisions. On this day the Germans employed their armor in strength and the Group's weapons proved totally ineffective against either the Tiger I or Panther tanks. The Germans cut off the northern most troop of the 32d CRS, surrounded it, and forced it to surrender in the early morning darkness.(25) Throughout 17 December the group was on the move, constantly withdrawing to avoid being cut off as German units continually infiltrated around its positions. In the afternoon of the 17th, the 32d CRS attempted to establish a delaying position between the towns of Bord and Wallerode, while simultaneously attempting to counterattack and recapture Bord. The counterattack failed, and again the cavalry withdrew.(26)
On 18 December remnants of the group consolidated in defensive positions in the vicinity of Recht. The Group was put under the operational control of the 7th Armored Division which was preparing the defense of Saint Vith.(27) The group had lost 28% of its personnel and 35% of its equipment. Three of five cavalry troops had been destroyed. The 7th Armored Division consolidated all the remaining elements of the group under the operational control of the 18th CRS, and integrated that squadron into the defense of Saint Vith.(28)
The case of the 14th Cavalry Group illustrates how cavalry was used in the defense as a solution to the shortage of infantry. It also demonstrates vividly the risk a commander incurs when substituting thin cavalry positions for strong infantry positions to hold ground. The defense failed primarily due to the sheer size of the attacking German force. Significantly, the ability of the group to remain a coherent fighting force, and to retain some degree of combat power throughout the Ardennes campaign is directly attributable to its superior mobility and robust command and control capability. Infantry units of much larger size and combat power did not fare nearly as well in similar situations in the Ardennes.A more common use of cavalry in the defense is for the purpose of economy of force. Unlike the case of the 14th Cavalry Group, when cavalry defended as an economy of force, its specific purpose was to permit the massing of forces somewhere else for decisive action. Usually it permitted mass for decisive offensive action. XX Corps of the Third Army used its 3d Cavalry Group in this manner during the offensive to capture the fortress city of Metz in October and November of 1944.
During the period September-November 1944, the Third Army stalled west of the Moselle River in front of the city of Metz. This halt in the rapid advance of the Third Army was caused by a number of factors, the most important of which was lack of fuel. At the beginning of September the allied command began experiencing severe logistics challenges, particularly in keeping the various spearheads of the armies fueled. The result of these shortages was the assignment of logistics priority to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group.(29)
The impact of fuel priorities on General Patton's fast moving Third Army was immediate and drastic. It was particularly hardfelt by the Army's XX Corps under General Walton Walker. Walker's XX Corps, consisting of the 5th and 90th Infantry Divisions, the 7th Armored Division, and the 3d Cavalry Group, was moving rapidly toward Metz when the shortage of gasoline hit. Immediately the fast moving columns of the corps came to a halt. On 1 September the only unit moving was Colonel Drury's 3d Cavalry which was then leading the corps' continuing exploitation of the July break out of the Normandy beachhead. The 3d Cavalry was able to continue patrols toward the Corp's objective of Metz for two more days with fuel captured from the enemy.(30) From 1 to 5 September, the XX Corps stood without sufficient fuel to continue operations. When, on 6 September, the fuel situation was restored sufficiently to continue operations, the battlefield situation had changed drastically. The five days of inactivity proved sufficient for the Germans to reorganize their defenses along the Moselle River. Subsequent attempts to quickly seize bridgeheads across the river failed. (31) The corps' remaining offensive capability was limited to closing its units to the west bank of the Moselle. On 25 September the corps was ordered to cease all offensive operations.(32) From the period of 25 September to 8 November the corps made limited advances and occupied defensive positions before the fortress city.
During this period the 3d Cavalry Group played a supporting but important role in the corps plan to keep continuous pressure on Metz. The corps front was approximately 40 miles long, extending from the city of Heute Kontz in the north where it joined with the First Army, to the city of Pont a Mousson in the south where it tied into the XII Corps. During XX Corps operations to seize Metz, over half of this 40 miles front was defended solely by the 3d Cavalry Group.(33) This permitted the corps commander to rest divisions, and, more importantly, focus division operations around Metz.
The 3d Cavalry Group's defensive sector varied over the six week period 19 September to 8 November, from 20 to 25 miles of front. It extended from Haute Kontz in the North, in contact with the 83d Infantry Division, to Uckange in the south, where is tied into the 90th Infantry Division.(34) The sector faced the Moselle, but included a German bridgehead on the western bank of the river at the town of Berg.(35)
For the duration of the operation along the Moselle River the group was designated Task Force Polk, after the new group commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Polk (Colonel Drury had been captured while on patrol on 5 September.(36) Initially the group was task organized with one cavalry squadron, the 43d CRS, a detachment (Troops E and F of the 6th CRS, and E and F of the 28th CRS) from the 6th Cavalry Group, the 135th Combat Engineer Battalion, and a battalion of French infantry.(37) Over the period of the mission the group was steadily reinforced with a variety of additional troops. In mid October it acquired the 3d CRS (back from a separate defensive mission in the south of the corps sector)(38) , as well as the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion.(39) Over time it also received a growing number of French battalions, which were of only marginal use. Eventually, at its height, TF Polk number well over 5000 personnel, and included three battalions of a corps artillery group in support (see figure 21).
Task Force Polk's actions along the Moselle typified cavalry defensive actions. The units were spread thinly in platoon and troop strong points oriented on potential enemy crossing sites or bridgeheads. The gaps between strong points were vigorously patrolled by the cavalry reconnaissance troops dismounted, and by the tank troops mounted. Patrolling was also extended regularly across the river to the east bank. The armored troops, which in numbers equaled a light tank battalion, served as squadron and group mobile reserve forces, prepared to counterattack as required. The assault gun troops, also equaling a battalion strength in numbers, were consolidated and tied into the supporting field artillery battalion's fire control nets.
Figure 27. 3d Cavalry Group Disposition, October, 1944.
In addition, on 3 November the group mounted a deliberate dismounted attack by Troops A and B, 43d CRS, supported by tanks of Troop F, to seize the town of Berg. This attack eliminated the German bridgehead at Berg after a two day fight.(40) Of key importance, XX Corps deployed a deception team which portrayed the radio signature of a division behind the Group throughout the operation.(41)
Ultimately the defense of Task Force Polk was never seriously tested. Its aggressive actions, combined with the radio deception team's efforts, convinced the Germans that the area was defended by an entire armor division.(42) On November 8 the 90th Infantry Division, wearing 3d Cavalry unit patches, attacked across the Moselle through the Group's positions and began the final stage of the siege of Metz, ending the Group's defensive mission.(43)
The 3d Cavalry's defense of the Moselle was typical of the type, size, purpose, and duration of cavalry defensive missions. The 3d Cavalry would perform a similar mission again in January 1945, defending 20 miles of corps front as the XX Corps sought to breach the Seigfred Line . This type mission was also executed by other groups throughout the theater. Further south, in the XII Corps sector, the 2d Cavalry Group defended a 20 mile stretch of the Moselle with two cavalry squadrons for three months from December 1944 to February 1945.(44) At the extreme northern tip of the 12th Army Group, the 113th Cavalry Group defended 10 miles on the left flank of First Army for five weeks in September and October 1944.(45) Not only were these missions common, but they were critical to permit corps and army commanders to control ground at the operational level and still mass combat power at the decisive point for offensive operations. The economy of force mission was not very glamorous, but it was dangerous and required great tactical skill. Ultimately, it was one of the keys to operational success.
Cavalry doctrine as outlined in both FM 2-15, and FM 100-5, permitted a limited defensive role for horse cavalry. It did not, however, envision mechanized cavalry defending, nor did it provide for a defensive mission in the mechanized cavalry organization. Yet these missions were conducted generally successfully through task organizing with other arms and the skillful emphasis of the strengths of mechanized cavalry: combined arms operations; dismounted patrolling; mobility; command and control; and small unit leadership. However, as the case of the 14th Cavalry demonstrates, no amount of skillful employment, or leadership, could substitute for unit mass, or could make up for the organization's woefully inadequate anti-armor capability. Thus, employing cavalry in defense always entailed a calculated risk on the part of the commander, and was willingly done only as means of massing combat power elsewhere.
After defense, the second most common mission performed by mechanized cavalry groups was security. Security was defined by FM 100-5, 1944, as "...all measures taken by a command to protect itself against annoyance, surprise, and observation." The manual also addressed cavalry's role in security as reconnaissance, which it stated "is an essential part of security,"(46) and providing early warning.(47) It did not foresee mechanized cavalry providing protection from enemy forces, in particular, enemy mechanized forces. Protection from enemy mechanized forces was the doctrinal role of mobile tank destroyer units.(48) In the field, however, corps commanders conducted advance and flank security operations with mechanized cavalry.
A clear demonstration of cavalry's employment in this role was the utilization of the 2d Cavalry Group, commanded by Colonel James Reed, during the XII Corps encirclement of Nancy in September 1944.
XII Corps, part of Third Army, paused briefly due lack of fuel prior to its attacks to capture the city of Nancy in early September 1944. On 5 September the corps launched a planned three division attack to secure the city. This initial attack failed when the 80th Infantry Division failed to secure a bridgehead over the Moselle River.(49) On 11 September the corps tried again and this time was successful in establishing two bridgeheads across the river: one north of Nancy secured by the 80th Division; and one south of Nancy established by the 35th Infantry Division. The corps then crossed Combat Commands A and B of the 4th Armored Division to support the northern and southern bridgeheads respectively.(50)
Figure 28. M8 Assault Gun in Action.
Once on the far side of the river the 4th Armored Division conducted a wide double envelopment of Nancy, leaving the securing of the city to the infantry. The 2d Cavalry group was deployed with its two squadrons, the 2d CRS and the 42d CRS, echeloned to the right of Combat Command B, providing flank security to the division and the corps southern flank.(51)
Once established on the far side of the Moselle, XII Corps paused for three days, providing the Germans the opportunity to gather forces for a counterattack.(52) The mission of counterattacking fell to General Hasso Von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army. He received two newly deployed panzer brigades, the 111th and 112th, to execute the attack. His plan was to attack from south to north through Luneville. The intent was to attack towards Nancy, thus cutting off the XII Corps penetration, and the 4th Armored Division, at its base.(53)
Figure 29. 2d Cavalry Group Delay at Luneville.
On 19 September the lead elements of the 111th Panzer Brigade began their attack. They were immediately observed by the forward outposts of the 2d Cavalry's 42d CRS, manned by Troop A.(54) Colonel Charles H. Reed, the group commander, and Major James H. Pitman, commander of the 42d CRS, moved to intercept the lead German elements, establishing an armor ambush using the 42d CRS's Troop C and Troop E's assault guns(55) (see figure 29).
They sprang the ambush effectively and surprised the enemy advance guard of Panther tanks and their accompanying infantry. However, the 75-mm guns of Troop E were unable to penetrate the armor of the German tanks and managed only one mobility kill for the loss of three assault guns.(56) Troop C was more effective fighting dismounted against the German infantry. The fires of Troop C forced the German infantry to dismount and then repelled the following dismounted attack. However, the cavalry had no effect on the German tanks which systematically began destroying cavalry vehicles.(57) Troop C suffered losses of one armored car and two jeeps, and Colonel Reed was severely wounded and Major Pitman killed. The German tanks, after losing their infantry support, withdrew and by-passed the cavalry position moving on a different route toward Luneville.(58) The cavalry withdrew, using the forest for cover, through Luneville to Crevec.
The actions of Troops C and E were sufficient to provide time for the Group to pull the other elements of the 42d CRS and the 2d CRS across the Meurthe River into Luneville. More important, the delay caused by these two troops, combined with delay caused by the initial actions of Troop A's outposts, was sufficient to allow the reserve combat command, CCR, of the 4th Armored Division, and other forces to move to Luneville and blunt the German attack.(59) Another effect of the 2d Group delaying action was the deflection of the German counterattacks to the north and east toward CCA and CCB of the 4th Armored Division. This led to the decisive defeat of the German armor in the tank battles around Arracourt.
The actions of the 2d Cavalry clearly indicate the major impact that even small numbers of mobile units can have on a battle. They demonstrated that the role of security forces is not to win battles or retain terrain, but rather to provide protection and buy time. The battles around Luneville demonstrate, however, how ill-equipped mechanized cavalry was to repel armor attacks. The success of the Luneville action came despite ineffective anti-tank weapons. It was a result of good operational and tactical positioning, and the leadership of Colonel Reed and Major Pitman. Colonel Reed was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.(60)
The Luneville action of the 2d Group is typical of the use of cavalry for flank security. In addition to flank security missions, cavalry was also used occasionally as an advance security force and as a rear security force. These missions, however, were more often assigned to squadrons or troops, rather than entire groups. For corps cavalry groups, advance guard actions were not as common as flank security missions because in the advance guard role contact with significant enemy forces was expected. The exception to this is the advance guard in the pursuit, when enemy combat forces were disrupted and speed was essential. Armored divisional cavalry, because of its close support relationship with the armor and armored infantry units of the division, often were used as troop size advance guards for the division's combat commands.
The 4th Armored Division organized its cavalry as an advance guard in its attack to break through to Bastogne beginning 22 December 1944. Combat Command A, attacking on the eastern axis, was led by a team organized around Troop A, 25th CRS. Combat Command B, attacking on the western axis was led by Troop B, 25th CRS. The remainder of the 25th CRS, Troops C, D, E and F, initially provided western flank security for the division. Ultimately the main effort of the division was shifted to CCR. When this occurred Troop C was attached to that command to provide flank security (see figure 30).(61) CCR broke through to Bastogne on 26 December, four days after the division attack began.(62) This disposition of cavalry in support of an armored division attack, with a troop supporting each of the combat commands, was typical. It was anticipated by the additional troop authorization to the armored division squadron under the 1943 table of organization.
Actions in the European theater demonstrated that cavalry flank security was expected to provide protection through delay and defensive action. When acting as part of the advance guard, cavalry was expected to attack and destroy enemy outposts and define the main centers of enemy resistance. The combat requirements of mechanized cavalry security went well beyond the early warning which was the only requirement in published doctrine. Security in combat required fighting, a requirement not envisioned by the official doctrine or tables of organization.
Figure 30. 25th CRS Leading Attack to Bastogne.
Cavalry doctrine, as expressed in FM 100-5, and FM 2-15, advocated using cavalry for limited offensive operations to secure specific significant objectives. Doctrine also advocated using cavalry to lead the pursuit of an enemy whose lines had been penetrated. These missions, as discussed previously, were envisioned for horse cavalry. Cavalry doctrine permitted mechanized cavalry to attack as part of a pursuit or in support of reconnaissance missions.(63) As with defensive missions, the circumstances of the European campaign forced commanders to employ mechanized cavalry in the traditional role of horse cavalry. Thus, mechanized cavalry was used offensively to lead pursuits, and to capture key objectives such as bridges. They were also used when required to conduct deliberate offensive operations when infantry or armor were not available.
During the European campaign the US armies were able to disrupt the German defenses to the point of executing pursuit operations on two occasions. The first occasion was following the breakout of the Normandy beachhead and the virtual destruction of the German Seventh Army in Falaise. The second occasion was following the breaching of the Rhine River and the destruction of the German Army Group in the Ruhr. On both of these occasions cavalry groups and squadrons were in the vanguard of vigorous pursuits.
There are many examples of cavalry leading in the pursuit of the summer of 1944. Already alluded to was the 3d Cavalry's rapid advance at the head of XX Corps from Avaranches to the banks of the Moselle in August 1944. Another noteworthy dash was that made by troops of the 102d Cavalry Group into the heart of Paris on 1 September 1944.(64) The 4th Cavalry led VII Corps to the Seigfried line in the Ardennes by the middle of September.(65)
In pursuit, cavalry attacked mounted, using speed and surprise to compensate for the lack of armor protection and anti-tank capability. The objective during the pursuit was to maintain the tempo of operations to prevent the enemy from organizing an effective defense. This required units to quickly breach natural obstacles such as rivers, and often to attack despite being outnumbered. The actions of the 82d Reconnaissance Battalion, 2d Armored Division, in August 1944, typify actions of cavalry in pursuit.
At the end of August 1944, the 2d Armored Division was advancing rapidly as part of the XIX Corps drive from the Seine River to the Somme River. The 82d Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wheeler Merriam, led the division's CCA. The battalion was initially tasked with seizing crossing sights over the Somme River.(66)
Figue 31. Cavalry advancing during the summer of 1944. Source: US Army, Photo reproduced in Kent Roberts Greenfield, editor, US Army in World War II, Pictorial Record: The War Against Germany: Europe and Adjacent Areas (Washington DC.: Center for Military History, 1951), 157.
The division commander, Major General Edward H. Brooks urged the 82d ARB to move rapidly before German resistance could be organized. The second platoon of Company C, 82d ARB, raced into the city of Peronne at thirty miles an hour and found the bridge still standing. The platoon's armored cars attacked the bridge guards and the platoon leader dismounted to cut the demolition charge wires before the bridge could be blown. German automatic cannons attempted to take the platoon under fire, but were silenced by the platoon's mortars. The first platoon then reinforced second platoon, and together they defended the position until relieved by the division main body.(67)
Moving along a different route that night, the battalion's Company D was overtaken by a retreating German column. The company maintenance section moving at the tail of the column informed the commander that there was enemy to his rear. He ordered his tanks to pull over. When the German column came abreast of the American tanks the company opened fire, devastating the German unit. The company then resumed its march and seized a bridge at Aubencheul au Bac.(68)
Figure 32. 82d ARB Leads Allies into Belgium. Source: US Army photo reproduced in Houston, 267.
The 2d Armored Division's pursuit, with the 82d Reconnaissance Battalion leading, continued into the beginning of September. On 1 September 1944, Company A of the 82d ARB was the first American unit into Belgium. That day the battalion captured 800 prisoners, destroyed three 75-mm assault guns, eight other vehicles, and assorted horse drawn carts.(69) At this point in the operation the division was halted due to fuel shortages.
The division resumed the attack on 5 September and good progress was made as far as the Albert Canal. On 6 September Company C of the Battalion captured almost 300 prisoners. However, the halt in the pursuit caused by the fuel shortage permitted the Germans to destroy all the bridges over the canal. On 11 September the division crossed the canal. The 82d ARB was the lead mounted unit across and was tasked with clearing the zone for the division. The battalion attacked and quickly seized its initial objective, but a German counterattack temporarily drove the Americans back. The battalion regrouped and continued the attack. The battalion commander and the tank company were in the lead when they ran into a German anti-armor ambush. In less than five minutes the lead platoon of D Company was wiped out. The battalion commander's armored car was also destroyed.(70) This action signaled the end of the pursuit and the return of hard fighting. At this point the battalion was replaced by armored and armored infantry units.
Cavalry was the ideal corps or armored division element to lead a pursuit. The light armor of the cavalry was a major advantage when pursuing the enemy because speed, not firepower or protection, were essential to preventing the enemy from reorganizing his defenses. Cavalry units were faster than armor or armored infantry in terms of road speed, with the all wheel reconnaissance platoon capable of maintaining speeds over 50 miles per hour. The mechanized cavalry was also more maneuverable than other arms due to the lower ground weight of its vehicles which allowed it to cross small bridges as well as soft ground. The cavalry's enhanced command and control capability allowed it to move dispersed searching out clear areas, intact bridges, fords, and by-passing areas of resistance. Finally, when the enemy was encountered, cavalry troops were capable of hitting fast and hard with a coherent combined arms team of light tanks, armored cars, assault guns and mortars. This small synchronized combined arms team provided sufficient combat power to break up any hastily organized resistance.
In addition to leading the great pursuits of the European campaign, cavalry was also employed to execute deliberate attacks. Against an enemy who was prepared and possessed artillery or armor support, cavalry's combined arms mounted attacks were not effective. This was primarily due to the lack of armored protection and anti-tank capability of the light tanks and armored cars. Therefore, when assigned a deliberate attack, cavalry more often than not attacked dismounted.
The 6th Cavalry Group demonstrated how cavalry used its combined arms characteristics to execute a deliberate attack during the counterattack following the Germans Ardennes offensive. In December 1944, the 6th Cavalry Group was operating in a defensive economy of force role along the Saar River in the southern part of the XX Corps sector. As part of Patton's reaction to the Germans Ardennes attack, the group was moved over 100 kilometers north and entered the line counterattacking toward Bastogne on the left of the 4th Armored Division on 25 December 1944. Under III Corps control the group fought a series of minor actions and then went into corps reserve.(71)
On 1 January the group was again committed to offensive action, moving into the III Corps line to fill gaps within the 35th Infantry Division's sector. At this point the group's 28th CRS and 6th CRS were separated by the positions of one of the 35th's infantry regiments. Still under corps control the group was ordered to execute a deliberate attack to seize the town of Watrange on 11 January 1945. To accomplish this the group commander, Colonel Pickett, task organized the group, creating Task Force Burke consisting of the group's two tank troops, Troop E of the 28th CRS, and a platoon of self propelled tank destroyers.(72)
Figure 33. M8 Armored Car in Winter Camouflage. Source: US Army Photo reproduced in Kent Roberts Greenfield, editor, US Army in World War II, Pictorial Record: The War Against Germany: Europe and Adjacent Areas , 285.
The attack began on the morning of the 11th of January with Troops C and B of the 28th CRS attacking the village on foot through the snow. Troop A, 28th CRS was the squadron reserve, Task Force Burke (mounted) supported the attack by fire and then moved into the village mounted as the dismounted element gained the town. By 1100 the town was in the hands of the cavalry. The group then committed the 6th CRS to continue the attack mounted. The 6th CRS attacked through Watrange and continued on to capture the town of Tarchamps as darkness fell. The attack resulted in over 500 enemy killed and over 300 prisoners.(73) It was one of the first successful attacks against the southern shoulder of the Bulge since the relief of Bastogne and it was the precursor of a month of similar battles as the Allied forces slowly reduced the Bulge.
Mechanized cavalry executing a deliberate attack against a prepared enemy was not remotely envisioned by any of the doctrine relevant to cavalry. The 6th Cavalry example is similar to the defensive mission of the 14th Cavalry in that both units were used by their respective corps to conduct deliberate combat missions due to a shortage of armor or infantry. The 6th Cavalry attack was successful due to skillful employment of all arms, emphasizing the capabilities of the cavalry squadron. It was also successful because of the absence of German armor or anti-armor capability in any strength. The battle demonstrated the capability of a combined arms force to rapidly exploit success. The attack of the 6th Cavalry was, however, a non doctrinal employment of mechanized cavalry.
Reconnaissance, as a singular mission was a rare occurrence. It most often was conducted in conjunction with the execution of other missions. When it was required, however, cavalry squadrons and groups were very adept at it for obvious reasons. A unique situation requiring pure reconnaissance occurred early in the European campaign as the German forces defending the Cotentin Peninsula broke contact and occupied the city of Cherbourg in late July 1944. The 24th CRS, part of the 4th Cavalry Group under VII Corps, was detached from the group, and attached to the 4th Infantry division for the purpose of securing the corps right flank.(74)
Figure 34. M5A1 of the 4th Cavalry Group. Source: US Army Photo reproduced in Zaloga, 37.
The 24th CRS's initial mission was to screen the right flank of 4th Infantry division and, for this purpose, it was further attached to the 22d Infantry Regiment.(75) On 19 June the Squadron was ordered to secure a Bridgehead over the Sinope River. The squadron accomplished this using Troop C, but a German counter-attack forced the troop to give up its bridgehead. Within hours the squadron attacked again, this time using the tanks of Troop F covered by a smoke screen fired by Troop E. The attack was successful in ejecting the Germans and securing the bridgehead.(76)
Figure 35. 24th CRS Reconnaissance of the Cotentin Peninsula.
At this point in the campaign for the Cotentin, the Germans attempted to break contact and withdraw into the defenses of the city of Cherbourg. As the enemy withdrew the 24th CRS, under 4th Infantry Division control, conducted a rapid reconnaissance to reestablish contact with the enemy and determine his dispositions. For the three days of June 20 - 23, the squadron reconnoitered the eastern coast of the peninsula, attempting to determine the centers of German resistance (see figure 25). On 20 June Troops C and A reconnoitered the roads to the town of Quettehou, attempting to regain contact with the enemy. The troops found the roads extensively mined and cratered, removed demolitions from several bridges, but were unable to locate the enemy main body. On 21 June the reconnaissance continued with Troop A moving to St. Pierre Eglise and Troop C to Barfleur. Again, although a few prisoners were taken, resistance was slight. On 22 June Troop A began reconnoitering west from St. Pierre Eglise toward Cherbourg, and was stopped by heavy resistance in the vicinity of Gonneville, about 3 miles east of Cherbourg. Troop C continued the reconnaissance along the coast from Barfleur to St. Pierre Eglise, coming on line with Troop A. On 23 June the squadron tested the enemy defenses by executing limited attacks against the town of Gonneville with Troop's E and F. The squadron also relieved Troop B of its mission on the Sinope River and brought it forward to enter the line between Troops A and C on 24 June.(77) At this point, on 29 June, the squadron's mission reverted to security of the division and corps right flank by defending.
This mission demonstrates that the lessons learned in North Africa regarding combat and reconnaissance still apply. Even with the enemy disengaging and withdrawing, the squadron was required to fight for information. The purely combat elements of the squadron, Troops E and F, were critical to the mission's success. Likewise, the reconnaissance troops also had to fight to conduct reconnaissance and took over 50 prisoners of war during the period.(78) The terrain and enemy was such that by-passing was usually impractical. Finally, the mission demonstrated the truism that reconnaissance is rarely pure, but at different times incorporates aspects of defense, offense, and security. The mission required an attack to secure the bridge heads over the river Sinope to start the mission. It also ended in attacks to determine the nature of the defense in the vicinity of Gonneville, and then defense to continue to secure the right flank of the 4th Infantry Division.
Cavalry Doctrine expressed in FM 100-5, and FM 2-15 indicated that cavalry could be used for a variety of specialized missions. FM 2-15 indicated that examples of special missions included liaison, filling gaps between units, and providing security for command posts.(79) Cavalry did all of these missions and more.
One of the more unique special missions performed by cavalry was the role the 6th Cavalry Group played in the Third Army from August to December 1944. During this time period the 6th Cavalry Group, and in particular the 6th CRS, was officially designated as the Army Information Service for Third Army.(80) The purpose of this mission was to ensure that the Army commander, General Patton, and his staff, as well as other senior personnel, were constantly kept appraised of what was happening at the tactical level in the army. The intent was to ensure that the army commander had rapid and direct communication with the tactical commanders at division level. General Patton felt that the army was well served employing a cavalry group in this manner due to the importance of reliable communications when conducting army level maneuver warfare.
The 6th Cavalry group was uniquely qualified to perform this mission. The 6th Cavalry, unlike most regular army units, had never been cadred to form new units as the Army expanded. It was also one of the two original horse-mechanized regiments. These factors combined to create an unequaled professionalism within a unit made up largely of prewar regulars. A reflection of this professionalism was the skill of the group's radio operators. The group commander indicated that his personal radio operator could transmit long distance key messages in the dark, in a jeep, moving cross country, faster and with less errors than the signal men in the Third Army's headquarters signal battalion.(81) General Patton agreed with him.
To accomplish this mission required the group to dedicate the entire 6th CRS. Each Third Army corps headquarters had a 6th CRS troop headquarters with it and a cavalry platoon shadowed each division headquarters. All of these units communicated directly with Group Headquarters which was located with Army Headquarters. The tank and assault gun troops were detached for most of this operation. In this manner the Army commander maintained virtually real-time situation awareness, and was free of the cumbersome and slow chain of command.
Another important special mission of cavalry was rear area security. The 28th CRS, 6th Cavalry Group was used as an army rear security force (while the 6th CRS ran the information service).(82) Many other cavalry units temporarily provided rear area security forces during the war. This mission was assigned to the 125th CRS of the 113th Cavalry Group with on four hours notice during the Battle of the Bulge.(83) In March 1945 the 101st Cavalry Group was assigned the mission of conducting mopping up operations in the rear area of XXI Corps.(84) Another aspect of rear area security conducted by cavalry was convoy escort. The relief supply convoy to the cut off infantry battalion on Hill 315 at Mortain arrived escorted by tanks of the 4th Cavalry Group.(85) One of the 7th Armored Division's 87th CRS's primarily tasks in the month of August 1944 was securing the logistics line behind XX Corps.(86) Mobility, command and control, and firepower were the requirements for these missions and thus they were ideally suited to the cavalry.
A variety of other special combat missions were performed by cavalry. Raids, both mounted and dismounted were frequently conducted at the troop and platoon level. Cavalry troops were used to conduct amphibious landings. Finally, cavalry squadrons and groups executed assault river crossings on numerous occasions.
As the war came to a close, a final special mission was organizing and controlling the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons who required food, shelter, and policing as they migrated in all directions through US Army areas of operations. The mobility, fire power, command and control, and psychological impact of the light armored vehicles of cavalry gave it capabilities in the area of civil military operations unique among all US Army forces.
The special missions assigned to cavalry were not all doctrinal. Some of the missions, those associated with mobility, like liaison and rear security, were anticipated by horse cavalry doctrine. Many of the missions, such as amphibious landings, convoy escort, and civilian population control, were a result of the recognized flexibility of the cavalry organizations at all levels from group to platoon.
The performance of mechanized cavalry in the European theater of operations during World War II had a profound impact on most of the senior level commanders who served in the theater. The theater made a concerted effort to gather information, opinions, and facts regarding the experience of mechanized cavalry. The Army's evaluation of the performance of mechanized cavalry were captured in the General Board Report Study Number 49, "Mechanized Cavalry Units," published in November 1945. This report captured many of the most important insights regarding mechanized cavalry, and was reviewed by all the key fighting headquarters and many of the key leaders at corps and army level.
The most fundamental lessons learned from the mechanized cavalry operations in Europe are in regards to doctrine. Cavalry units confirmed the tactical lessons learned in North Africa regarding combat and reconnaissance, and the importance of other missions. They also demonstrated at the operational level the role cavalry played in corps and Army maneuver. These lessons demonstrated the inadequacy of the written doctrine which existed for mechanized cavalry during the war.
Cavalry units had not been ashore at Normandy 24 hours before it was demonstrated to elements of the 24th CRS, 4th Cavalry Group, that combat was required to conduct effective reconnaissance. The tactical lessons regarding the relationship of stealth and combat to reconnaissance learned in North Africa were confirmed in the actions of the 24th CRS on the Cotentin peninsula. Stealth was still felt to be valid in particular situations, particularly when time was available for careful dismounted patrolling. However, when time was short, or when the enemy was prepared, combat was required to gather combat information.
An additional doctrinal lesson learned regarding cavalry relates to the tactical missions of mechanized cavalry. Europe proved that when employed skillfully, and in circumstances that accounted for their characteristics, mechanized cavalry was more than capable of fulfilling all of the tactical missions of horse cavalry, and was not limited to just reconnaissance. In particular, mechanized cavalry proved very effective in the defense. It also demonstrated that it could provide flank and forward security, and execute attacks. Cavalry proved to be particularly well suited to fast paced, unstructured offensive operations required by pursuit. A variety of special missions, including control of civil populations and convoy escort, were also effectively executed. In its tactical capability, flexibility, and success, cavalry far exceeded the limited doctrinal view envisioned for it by the doctrine writers at Fort Riley, Kansas.
An aspect of cavalry employment not recognized by doctrine was difference in employment of corps cavalry and divisional cavalry. Although both types of cavalry executed the total range of traditional cavalry missions, the frequency of mission types varied considerably between the corps cavalry squadrons and the armored division cavalry squadrons. The corps cavalry was employed in offensive and defensive missions 43% of the time, while these missions were executed by division cavalry units 15% of the time. Division cavalry performed more reconnaissance missions, 13% of the total missions versus 3% in corps cavalry.(87)
Division cavalry squadrons were also more prone to have troops detached than corps cavalry. Routine armored division offensive operations, as demonstrated by the 4th Armored division attack to Bastogne, called for at least one cavalry troop to lead each combat command. This often left the squadron with insufficient combat power to execute its own mission effectively. Consequently, this often resulted in the squadron being placed in reserve while its troops led the various spearheads of the division under combat command control. The organization of the divisional squadron anticipated this to some degree by the addition of Troop D to the divisional squadron, but this solution was often not adequate. The impact was that the divisional squadrons, as a unit, were not the key players in division operations that the corps groups often were at their level.
A very important, but somewhat subtle lesson was the role of the mechanized cavalry group as an operational tool for economy of force. The US Army's large unit (corps and army) doctrine was largely dominated by the World War I experience and emphasized the infantry artillery team. Army doctrine maintained that on the modern battlefield armor would play the role previously performed by cavalry. Armor would be committed in a supporting role for infantry, and then employed in large units once a penetration occurred. Unfortunately, this is not what happened on the battlefield.
In World War II, armor was an integral part of the combined arms combat team in close conjunction with infantry and artillery. It did not play a supporting role. Therefore, the traditional supporting roles of cavalry fell to the mechanized cavalry to execute. One of the most critical roles was that of economy of force. The skillful use of mechanized cavalry, particularly in the defense, allowed corps and army commanders to mass their combined arms combat power for decisive battle. At one point in the late fall of 1944, over 60 miles of the Third Army front was covered by the army's three cavalry groups. It was one of the reasons that Patton's Third Army was able to continue offensive operations even after most of the American combat power had been shifted north to General Courtney Hodges First Army. Economy of force by cavalry also had the additional benefit of allowing rest, maintenance, and training periods for divisional units.
Economy of force by cavalry was probably the greatest contribution that cavalry made to the US Army's success. It directly effected the outcome of some of the decisive battles such as the capture of Nancy, the siege of Metz, and many aspects of the Ardennes battles. The use of cavalry in this role, and even the term itself is absent from all of the relevant doctrine. Some consideration of economy of force may be implied in some of the tactical missions stated for horse cavalry, but FM 100-5, and FM 100-17 make no use of the term, or provide any hint of the use of cavalry to accomplish the purpose of massing combat power.
FM 2-15 stated that the mission of Cavalry was combat and the European campaign demonstrated vividly that this was true. The combat record of cavalry was exemplary. The magnitude of the achievements of mechanized cavalry are especially noteworthy when considering that most of the missions assigned were not addressed in doctrine. This doctrinal void influenced organization and equipment, both of which derive from doctrine. Shortcomings in these areas were demonstrated in combat.
Deriving directly from the doctrinal lessons learned were lessons learned regarding organization. The cavalry group was a successful but flawed combat organization. It was a combat organization that had no useful written doctrine either for its operational employment or its tactical execution of missions. The cavalry group was the only one of the corps and army level groups to be employed in a direct combat role. All other groups, such as artillery, air defense, and engineer for example, were employed in combat support, or indirect combat roles. The group concept was adequate to these tasks but not adequate for the sustained direct combat role which was experienced by the cavalry group.
The size of the group limited its tactical flexibility and staying power. The group, typically with only two attached squadrons, was unable to execute the traditional combat doctrine of employing two thirds of a unit's combat power (two squadrons) in action, and maintaining a one-third reserve (one squadron). This typically forced groups to keep an exceptionally large reserve of one entire squadron, or an exceptionally small reserve of one troop. The tactically limiting effects of this organization were demonstrated in the Ardennes where the 14th Cavalry had the entire 38th CRS in reserve, and in the Moselle valley where the 3d Cavalry had both of its squadrons in the line for extended periods with no significant reserve. In either case it was inefficient, tactically limiting, and placed a significant stress on the elements in combat. To be a balanced combat maneuver force the group required a three squadron organization.
In addition to lacking an adequate number of squadrons, the group did not have any organic combat support or service support assets with which to support the squadrons or weight a main effort. These assets, when provided, were attached from corps or army level units. In practice this frequently resulted in the case of the cavalry not having attachments, as demonstrated by the 2d Cavalry at Luneville. It also often resulted in attachments that were unfamiliar, untested, and sometimes unsuited to combined operations with cavalry. The attachment of towed tank destroyers to the 14th Cavalry in the Ardennes is a typical example. Cavalry groups would have been much more effective if they had possessed a core group of organic units of platoon or company size that would have enabled them to augment or compliment the capabilities of the squadrons.
Most of the problems of the group could have been solved by retaining a regimental organization, similar to that used by the standard infantry regiment. This would have permitted a more robust and balanced organization of three squadrons, allowing the proper retention of an adequate reserve and still sufficient combat power forward to be effective. The regimental headquarters would have also retained a base which would have included a small number of critical combat and combat support assets with which the regiment could weight the effort and supplement the capability of the squadrons.
By contrast, the cavalry squadron proved to be a superior combat organization. Its major positive characteristic was that of organic combined arms at the squadron level. It suffered from the limitations of its equipment, but made up for this through versatility of tactical technique. The ability to execute a dismounted attack supported by organic tanks and indirect fire from mortars and assault guns, and then change the mission in minutes to a mounted pursuit at 30 miles an hour for extended distances, was unmatched by any battalion size organization in the Army. It was a flexibility that extended itself to the group and often permitted the squadrons to achieve successes in difficult tactical situations.
The key to the squadron's combined arms success, other than organization, was command and control. Command and control in cavalry squadrons was enhanced by the proliferation of radios through all levels such that every tactical vehicle mounted at least one. It was complimented by the 100% mobility of all assets. In addition, initiative and leadership resulting from training the platoons to operate independently and respond to radio directions, permitted the unit to disperse and concentrate at will. This characteristic, combined with its combined arms attributes, gave the cavalry squadron combat power out of proportion to its actual size and weapons capabilities. This permitted the squadron, doctrine to the contrary, to execute the traditional missions of cavalry as well as reconnaissance.
The cavalry reconnaissance troop, although having many of the same positive characteristics of the squadron, suffered due to a lack of combat power. Although the cavalry platoons and troops were not small organizations, they lacked heavy caliber fire power. The troop's primary weapons, the 37-mm gun, the machine gun (both .50 caliber and .30 caliber) and the 60-mm mortar, were very effective against infantry in the open. They did not, however, have the power to affect protected enemy troops, particularly if they were equipped with armor, anti-armor weapons, or artillery. In these situations the platoons and troops were required to dismount and drive the enemy from their position through close combat with small arms and grenades. This mode of fighting, even if successful, forced the cavalry troop to give up most of the advantages of its organization. The troop was an effective reconnaissance organization, but unlike the squadron, it was not able to execute the other traditional missions of cavalry without routine support from the tank and assault gun elements of the squadron.
During the European Campaign the ratio of dismounted employment of cavalry to mounted employment for combat was 1.8 to 1. The absence of infantry within the cavalry structure was extremely limiting. Although dismounted cavalry action was a tactical solution which achieved much success, it came at the cost of giving up cavalry's mobility, fire power, command and control, and what little armor protection they had. Cavalry organizations were required to dismount regularly, because within the structure of the squadron the only combat arm that was not represented was infantry. Cavalry's success came despite the lack of infantry.
The cavalry's equipment ran the gamut from extremely good and useful to next to worthless. The best that can be said about the major pieces of cavalry equipment is that they were generally very reliable. The greatest limitation caused by equipment was the lack of offensive fire power relative to other mechanized units. The unit's greatest strength was its machine guns which gave it significant punch when dealing with infantry in fluid situations. In all other respects it was outgunned.
Figure 36. M24 Light Tank, General Chaffee.
The light tank was one of the cavalry squadron's greatest weaknesses, primarily because of the poor performance of the 37-mm gun. Because the armored car mounted the same gun, the tank contributed very little to the capability of the squadron. The problems experienced by the 14th Cavalry's ineffective counterattacks in the Ardennes demonstrates the difficulty the M5 light tanks had fulfilling their assigned doctrinal role of supporting the reconnaissance troops. In February, 1945, cavalry units began receiving the M24 General Chaffee tank (see figure 36). This tank, in contrast to the M5, mounted a 75-mm gun which was more effective against German armor, and could penetrate the Panther tank from the flank. Colonel Reed, commander of the 2d Cavalry Group, believed that the M24 was not perfect, but it did allow cavalry to operate in the presence of enemy armor.(88) This tank was a welcome addition to the squadron, and the squadron commanders felt that it made the tank troop a viable organization. The problem that cavalry had was not with the armor protection of its vehicles, particularly its tanks, but rather with the tank killing capability. The General Board made no mention of inadequate armor, but did urge that every effort be made to adapt an effective anti-tank gun to the light tank.
Figure 37. M24 Light Tank in Action, 117th CRS, 1945. Source: US Army Photo reproduced in Zaloga, 42.
The armored car posed a different problem for cavalry. In terms of mobility, combat commanders could not agree on the capabilities of the armored car. In the European theater Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Collins, commander of the 125th CRS, decried the M8 armored car as an unsafe killer saying, "The M8 Armored Car is unquestionably a hazard to life, with its wide turning radius, particularly on narrow European road nets".(89) In contrast, the commander of the 81st CRS in Italy, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Popowski, said "the M8 is far superior [to the M3 White].... During my combat experience I saw only one instance where the armored car was not able to go where tanks went....Some of its capabilities over a tracked vehicle are: quietness, range, maintenance, and weight, which are all important in reconnaissance."(90) The one area that all could agree upon was the unsuitability of the 37-mm gun. It appears that the M8's greatest asset was its road speed, and, in contrast to the jeep scout vehicle, its armor and armament. This permitted some stealth when required, but allowed troops and platoons to use speed for protection and surprise; fight when they had to; and retreat when necessary. The tactical role of the armored car was support of the reconnaissance jeeps. Given this role, and its capabilities, cavalry leaders were not opposed to replacing the armored car with the light tank.
The jeep scout vehicle stood up well to cavalry operations in the European theater. Casualties were incurred due to the lack of armor protection, but cavalrymen seemed to consider this the price of doing business. The General Board recommended only that an armored windshield be added to give protection from forward small arms fire.
The assault gun troop demonstrated the faith placed in the system as a result of actions in North Africa. The M8 full tracked gun motor carriage increased the system's mobility. Its rapid and responsive fires were key to making up for the lack of heavy caliber fire power in the reconnaissance troops and the squadron. Often, as in the case of the 2d Cavalry at Luneville, they spelled the difference between tactical success and failure. The only complaint about the gun was that it be updated to a 105-mm version which was standard in the armored artillery battalions.(91)
As World War II ended, three general conclusions regarding cavalry doctrine were apparent. The first conclusion was that doctrinal limitation of the mechanized cavalry to the reconnaissance mission which existed prior to and during the early part of the war was incorrect. The second was that mechanized cavalry was the one and true successor of horse cavalry, and that in combat it had assumed all of the traditional doctrinal missions of horse cavalry. The General Board supported this conclusion, restating the basic tenet of FM 2-15: "the mission of mechanized cavalry should be combat."(92) The third conclusion was that mechanized cavalry demonstrated a capability to profoundly influence the structure of the battlefield through economy of force operations at the corps and army level. These conclusions were validated by the General Board which made the judgment that the tactical doctrine of cavalry should be that of FM 2-15, based on the characteristics of cavalry as a light, heavily armed, and highly mobile force.(93) An expression of the General Board's conclusions was the recommended redesignation of all mechanized cavalry as simply "cavalry," as an indication of the predominant position of mechanized cavalry over horse cavalry.(94)
The experience and conclusions resulting from the employment of mechanized cavalry by the US Army in the European theater during World War II were applied to the reorganization of the Army immediately after the war. Those experiences have had a profound effect on the Army in the 50 years since the war. Finally, as the Army struggles with post cold war issues of doctrine and the organizations, and equipment to support them, the mechanized cavalry experience is vitally relevant.
(1)Kent Roberts Greenfield, The Organization of the Ground
Combat Troops (Washington DC: Office of the Chief of Military History,
Department of the Army, 1947), 356.
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