Doctrine Chapter 5

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[Mechanized Cavalry Doctrine in WWII]

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Moving steadily with three armored cavalry squadrons on line, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment led the US VII Corps on its deep envelopment of the Iraqi Army in Kuwait on February 25, 1991. At 1555 hours the 2d Squadron of the regiment made contact with an Iraqi forward security outpost manned by a reinforced T72 tank battalion of the Republican Guard Tawakanlana Division. In less than 30 minutes the 37 tanks of the battalion, as well as the supporting BMP infantry fighting vehicles, were reduced to smoking ruins. All along the regimental front, similar actions were occurring as the regiment's squadron advanced through the enemy security forces. By darkness the cavalry had succeeded in its mission as the corps covering force: it had located the main body of the enemy, and successfully penetrated the enemy security zone.(1)

The success of the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, as well as the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the seven divisional cavalry squadrons employed during Operation Desert Storm, is directly attributable to the principles of cavalry doctrine, organization and equipment established by the mechanized cavalry experience of World War II. Not only did these experiences shape the doctrine and organization of the cavalry force of the cold war, they also form a blueprint for future Force XXI design into the twenty-first century.

Figure 38. The General Board Recommended Cavalry Regiment.(2)

The doctrine and supporting organization and equipment of the US Army cavalry elements in the 1990s are directly attributable to the cavalry experience in World War II. As mentioned previously the General Board completed a very comprehensive study of the cavalry experience in the war. From this study emerged numerous recommendations. Key recommendations included the adoption of a three squadron regimental organization; the incorporation of all traditional cavalry missions into revised doctrine; and the inclusion of a significant amount of mechanized infantry in the organization. The board included its recommendations in a recommended regimental structure (see figure 38). Although the Army did not implement all of the recommendations of the board, they were the basis of the cavalry structure that emerged following the war.

Figure 39. Reconnaissance Platoon, 1950.(3)

The history of cavalry after World War II is the story of a slow but steady increase in its organizational capabilities and the refinement of its doctrine. In 1948 the Army organized its first post war cavalry unit, the 3d Cavalry based in Fort Bliss, Texas. Based on a new table of organization and equipment, TOE 17-51, Cavalry Regiment (Light), the organization showed the definite influence of the General Board's recommendations. It included three reconnaissance battalions, a 105-mm self propelled assault gun troop in each battalion, and a reconnaissance company and platoon structure that included light tanks in the company, as well as infantry squads (see figure 39). The battalion also included a medium tank company at battalion level (see figure 40). The obvious intent of the organization was to eliminate the two major short-comings in the 1943 squadron structure: lack of anti-tank capability, and inadequate dismounted infantry. The organization of this regiment permitted it to successfully accomplish the traditional missions of cavalry with its organic assets.

FM 17-95, The Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Armored Cavalry Reconnaissance Battalion, and FM 17-35, Reconnaissance Battalion, Armored Division, reflected updated doctrine for the new organization. The new doctrine stated that the mission of the reconnaissance battalion was "to engage in offensive or defensive combat, either mounted, dismounted, or a combination of both, primarily in execution of security and reconnaissance missions."(4) FM 17-22, Reconnaissance Platoon and Reconnaissance Company, indicated that the "reconnaissance platoon and company provide security and perform reconnaissance or light combat for units to which they are assigned or attached. For successful accomplishment of these missions, both the reconnaissance platoon and reconnaissance company are organized, equipped, and trained to attack, defend, or to delay."(5) The Army wrote these manuals specifically to replace their World War II counterparts, FM 2-15, FM 2-30, and FM 2-20, respectively. They make it very clear that combat missions, attack, defend, and delay, are the techniques utilized to accomplish the mission purposes of reconnaissance, and security.

In the 1950s, manuals did not capture the role of cavalry as an economy of force asset. The 1960 version of FM 17-35, now titled Armored Cavalry Platoon, Troop and Squadron, remedied this shortfall. The 1960 manual stated very clearly the missions of cavalry: "The armored cavalry squadron performs three types of missions: reconnaissance, security, and economy of force."(6) These same missions applied at the troop level.(7) The specific missions the manual listed for the squadron included deep and wide ranging reconnaissance; covering and screening force; rear area security; offensive and defensive combat; liaison; and communications.(8) This list is virtually identical to the list of missions assigned to horse cavalry in FM 2-15 written in 1941.

Figure 40. Armored Cavalry Regiment (light) and Reconnaissance Battalion, 1948.(9)

The 1950 and 1960 cavalry manuals together demonstrate that the Army completely internalized the major lessons regarding the cavalry experience in World War II. The manuals reflected the requirement for combat to achieve successful reconnaissance. They discussed the wide ranging missions expected of cavalry. These missions included all of the traditional missions of horse cavalry. Finally, the 1960 manual accurately defines the cavalry's role as a unit specifically designed to undertake missions for the purpose of economy of force.

The doctrine of cavalry remained constant throughout the cold war years, 1950 to 1991. The current cavalry doctrine reflected in the 1991 manual FM 17-95, Cavalry Operations, still remains consistent to the roles and missions defined in the 1950s and early 1960s. FM 17-95 states:

The fundamental roles of cavalry are to perform reconnaissance and provide security in close operations. Doing so, cavalry facilitates the corps or division commander's ability to maneuver divisions, brigades and battalions; concentrate superior combat power; and apply it against the enemy at a decisive time and place. Cavalry clarifies, in part, the friction of battle. Cavalry is, by its role, an economy of force. The flexible capabilities of cavalry allow the commander to conserve the combat power of division or brigades for engagement where he desires. The combat power of armored cavalry units, in particular, makes them ideal for offensive and defensive missions as an economy of force.(10)

Thus, the current manual clearly assigns to modern armored cavalry the same roles and missions recommended by the General Board at the conclusion of World War II.

Cavalry organizations also remained relatively consistent throughout the Cold War. The mixed cavalry platoon that originated in World War II remained the standard, notwithstanding changes in equipment types, through the mid 1980s (see figure 41). The Army eliminated the mixed platoon in the 1980s in favor of pure platoons, although the combined arms structure of the troop and squadron remained unchanged. The current regimental, squadron and troop organizations all reflect the combined arms philosophy practiced and validated in World War II, including the lesson of the requirement for organic combat power to accomplish the cavalry mission (see figure 42).

Figure 41. H-Series Cavalry Platoon, 1981.

Figure 42. Current Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Operational experiences since the Second World War have reinforced the validity of the post war design of cavalry doctrine and organizations. Cavalry units were key players in the Vietnam Conflict, cold war operations and plans in Europe, and most recently Operation Desert Storm. Cavalry's absence from the Korean War is noteworthy in that at least one distinguished military professional, General James M. Gavin, blames the absence of cavalry for the defeats the US Army suffered in the first year of the war. The inability of US forces to stop or even delay significantly the attack of the North Koreans south to Pusan is attributed by Gavin to the lack of cavalry. He maintains that a cavalry task force should have been given the delay mission that ultimately fell to the unfortunate Task Force Smith and later the 24th Infantry Division.(11) He also maintains that the surprise and success of the Chinese counterattack against the X Corps in the winter of 1950 were due to the failure to deploy and employ cavalry. Cavalry regiments and squadrons would have provided security forward and to the flanks of the American main body, and delayed the Chinese once the attack was discovered.(12) The failures that befell the Army when it operated without cavalry in Korea demonstrate the impact of cavalry on operations.

Cavalry units deployed to Vietnam despite the objections of some senior leaders. The cavalry force in Vietnam eventually totaled a half dozen divisional squadrons and the entire 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The cavalry's effectiveness, attributed to mobility, command and control, and fire power, surprised many senior officers. General William C. Westmoreland, initially opposed to the use of armor in Vietnam, changed his mind after viewing armored cavalry squadrons in action:

The ability of mechanized cavalry [his use of the WW2 terminology is interesting] to operate effectively in the Vietnamese countryside convinced me that I was mistaken in a belief that modern armor had only a limited role in the fighting in Vietnam....their firepower and psychological impact elsewhere would be reason enough to employ them.(13)

The same characteristics that had made cavalry an effective force on the World War II battlefield proved invaluable in the totally different conditions of Vietnam.

Desert Storm, as indicated earlier, was the ultimate achievement of the cavalry force since World War II. In Desert Storm the cavalry units, particularly the regiments, performed superbly, executing all the traditional missions of cavalry passed down through the mechanized cavalry. Desert Storm demonstrated, to a degree well beyond Korea and Vietnam, that the doctrine, organization, and equipment of the Army's current armored cavalry forces is effective and correct.

Comments on Current Cavalry

Despite the success of the current cavalry force in Operation Desert Storm, the World War II experiences and lessons learned point out some aspects of the force structure and doctrine worth examining.

Today the US Army has two types of cavalry regiments: a light force design represented by the 2d Cavalry Regiment; and a heavy force structure in the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. Having two cavalry forces is inefficient and a luxury a small Army cannot afford. The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, equipped with tanks and cavalry fighting vehicles, emphasizes the cavalry characteristic of fire power. The 2d Cavalry Regiment, equipped with a combination of TOW and .50 caliber equipped High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) emphasizes the cavalry characteristic of mobility. Both regiments retain the three ground squadron organization. The basic premise of the two regimental designs is that the characteristics of fire power and mobility are mutually exclusive. The truth of this premise will change with the arrival of the Armored Gun System (AGS) in the near future.

Current force structure plans will field the AGS only to the 2d Cavalry Regiment. This ignores the lesson of World War II that emphasized the critical importance of both fire power and mobility. The major advantage of the M1 tank is its fire power. The protection of the tank is of secondary importance in cavalry operations, and certainly is much lower in priority than mobility. Not a single cavalry leader in World War II expressed dissatisfaction with the armor protection of the light tank, even though every anti-armor weapon in the enemy arsenal could penetrate its front armor. They were unanimous in their avocation of mobility. The Army should give serious consideration to fielding only a single regimental cavalry structure, one based solely on an AGS and scout combination that is truly mobile in both the tactical and strategic sense, and can fight effectively against armor. Main battle tanks, consolidated in the squadron tank company as was done in the 1948 organization, allows them to still provide vital support while distracting less from the unit's mobility. This organization would be very capable of performing all the traditional missions of cavalry. Such a course would give the Army two effective cavalry regiments which is absolutely essential when conducting multiple corps operations or dealing with two simultaneous regional contingencies. They would both be lethal combat organizations. Most importantly, they would both be strategically and tactically mobile.

Another debate that has arisen since Operation Desert Storm is the importance of brigade level reconnaissance. Operations during Desert Storm indicated to many brigade and division commanders that a brigade level reconnaissance element is an absolute necessity. The after action report of the 1st Armored Division stated, "had the division been employed in a more spread out configuration, brigade scouts would have been employed."(14) US Army Armor School observers and most of the other divisions that took part in the operation echoed this view.

World War II experience recognized the same need as Desert Storm identified. The 4th Armored Division's organization of cavalry in its attack to Bastogne in December 1944 demonstrated this point. Doctrine and organization in World War II, however, anticipated the requirement for brigade level reconnaissance and provided a fourth cavalry troop (Troop D) in the squadron organization, for that purpose. In protracted combat it is likely that modern divisions will follow the lead of the World War II divisions and the views of Desert Storm leaders, and attach the divisional cavalry troops to the division's brigades as a normal practice. This will greatly reduce the usefulness of the division squadron to the division commander, as it did in World War II. Recognition of this likely reality should be a part of the debate regarding the requirement for brigade scouts, and argues for the increasing the number of troops in the division cavalry squadron to four.

Since the adoption of the "J Series" and Army of Excellence (AOE) tables of organization and equipment in the mid 1980s the cavalry platoons of the divisions and the regiment have "pure" organizations. Pure tank platoons consist of four tanks, and pure scout platoons, consisting of six cavalry fighting vehicles. This breaks sharply with the traditions of the mixed cavalry platoon established with the armored car and motorcycle mix in 1940. The primary justification for the pure platoon configuration is to ease of command and control burden on the junior leader, the platoon leader, and centralize the responsibility for combined arms synchronization in the most experienced leader, the troop commander. Also contributing to the decision was the unavailability of modern supporting equipment when M1 tank and M3 cavalry vehicle were fielded in the early 1980s.(15) This however ignores the operational reality of how the troops fight, and the vehicle systems now available to the Army.

The World War II experience indicates that the cavalry regiment and squadron cover large areas of terrain. In addition, divisional squadrons will often have to give up elements attached to brigades. Both of these operational missions call for platoons to operate beyond mutually supporting distance from each other. Since the advent of the pure platoon, the reality of mission requirements in the 11th ACR in Germany, the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry (1st Infantry Division) during Desert Storm,(16) and most recently, the 3d ACR at the National Training Center (NTC), have all caused units to return to the mixed platoon in one form or the other. The bottom line should be that operational requirements, not the experience level of the platoon leader, should drive the organization and configuration of the platoon. The experience of World War II indicates that cavalry platoons will operate independently and only concentrate for decisive combat. Vietnam, Desert Storm, and peace time operations in Germany and the NTC confirm this view. The platoon should be organized in accordance with how it will fight, not what is easiest for the peace-time Army to train to. This mandates a return to the mixed cavalry platoon.

Force XXI

As the Army downsizes and moves toward the twenty-first century, the Army's leadership is looking at radically different force designs and doctrinal concepts that will optimize emerging information technology. Force XXI represents these organizational concepts. The modern Armored Cavalry Regiment with its air component, and inherent combined arms, embodies all the characteristics demonstrated by cavalry on the World War II battlefield. These characteristics -- flexibility, command and control, mobility, and fire power -- make the cavalry force structure the perfect vehicle to harness and exploit information technology.

World War II demonstrated the flexibility of the cavalry organization to meet the wide variety of missions thrust upon it. Brigadier General Morris J. Boyd, Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine at the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), referring to the requirements of Force XXI units wrote, "the Army's unique mission capabilities will bring units to the future battlefield capable of conducting multiple missions."(17) Commanders in World War II used cavalry to conduct an army-wide information service; attacked dismounted to seize built up areas and forests; defended a corps size sector; led corps and armies in pursuit; fought head to head with panzers; and managed refugees; all without ever significantly changing its basic organization. This record demonstrates a unique flexibility not found in any other organizational structure. Force XXI units will require this type of flexibility to operate in the widest variety of operational environments and simultaneously execute numerious missions. The combined arms cavalry force structure has that flexibility.

Force XXI units will be built around the ability to manage information. The design of World War II cavalry units optimized the advanced information system of that era: the radio. No other organization relied upon the radio to the extent that cavalry did. It made possible the type of independent company and platoon operations demonstrated in the 82d Reconnaissance Battalion's dash across France and Belgium in August 1944. Current cavalry organizations equally stress the importance of command and control, and situational awareness, and push the capabilities of radio communications to the limit in that respect. The current cavalry organization emphasizes information management as a key component. The existence of the Troop level Tactical Operations Center (TOC) is specifically for this purpose. The Army, as it fields sophisticated information systems, should consider the cavalry organizational model for incorporating them.

Mobility, both tactical and strategic, will be key in Force XXI organizations because of the likelihood that the unit will be strategically projected into theater and then move itself tactically with organic assets. World War II cavalry units were the most tactically mobile forces in the Army due to the range and speed of their wheeled reconnaissance vehicles. Current cavalry units achieve tactical mobility through the application of their air cavalry components and through the responsiveness of their command and control system. Tactical mobility permits a small force to control large expanses of terrain; disperse for protection and auxiliary missions; concentrate rapidly for combat; and avoid decisive engagement under unfavorable conditions. These are all characteristics that cavalry demonstrated in combat in World War II, and which Force XXI units require in the twenty-first century.

Strategic mobility is another matter. Strategic mobility was not a major issue in World War II, but is to the contingency based Army of the future. The current heavy cavalry structure is not strategically mobile, although the light cavalry regiment is. Restructuring the cavalry regiment as discussed previously to achieve an optimum balance of strategic mobility and fire power, based on the AGS, is the solution to this problem. The successful cavalry experience of World War II supports the viability of an AGS equipped force to perform in any operational environment, including high intensity combat.

Force XXI should also heed the doctrinal lesson learned by cavalry in World War II regarding stealth versus combat. Many adherents of Force XXI predict an informational battlefield where technique and technology will suffice to inform the commander about the enemy. World War II proved that a smart enemy will actively deny information sought through passive measures. The US Army must be prepared to fight for information. This will require specially trained and equipped cavalry. The Army must take care to recognize that the inadequacies and inability of the Iraqi Army to successfully deny intelligence to passive sensors does not set a precedent for the future. An enemy as unprepared for modern war as the Iraqi will be rare. Force XXI will need a reconnaissance element that in especially trained for close reconnaissance, and prepared to fight for information if necessary.

The World War II cavalry and its modern descendants have demonstrated themselves to be particularly effective tools for operational economy of force. The reason for this effectiveness has been the tactical characteristics of mechanized cavalry: flexible and versatile command and control; mobility; combined arms; and fire power. Force XXI will also be an economy of force tool, but will fulfill that role at both the operational and strategic level. Force XXI units must be able to fight independently against superior enemies to permit the US Army the time and space to project its combat power into a contingency theater. Because of their shared economy of force roles, Force XXI must embody similar characteristics, and organization as mechanized cavalry.

Fire power and lethality will be hallmarks of Force XXI. The World War II mechanized cavalry had a combat capability out of proportion to its actual size. Current cavalry force structures retain that characteristic. This is a result of a mixture of weapons systems capabilities, a high system to personnel ratio, and integration of systems at the lowest level. The combined arms structure of cavalry can give a similar lethality to Force XXI.

As the Army wrestles with the issue of designing itself for the twenty-first century one of the issues it will confront is the paradigm of the combat arms branch structure. Twentieth century military doctrine has recognized the ascendancy of combined arms operations. The reality of this ascendancy is that combined arms forces are inherently superior to any single branch structure. The only US Army unit which has practiced this truth consistently for the last fifty years is the mechanized and armored cavalry. It is one reason why mechanized cavalry was successful on the World War II battlefield in spite of inadequate doctrine and equipment. What the Army must recognize in Force XXI is that the characteristics of combined arms incorporated and validated by cavalry can no longer be the sole prerogative of cavalry organizations. The combined arms cavalry structure developed in World War II and refined since then should become the basis for the Army's future standard fighting unit: Force XXI.


The World War II mechanized cavalry experience is remarkable for its variety and scope, and for the extent to which it has been ignored by both popular and academic history. World War II cavalry units participated in virtually every major campaign and battle in the European theater. They were remarkably effective in every task assigned, and they literally conducted every conceivable mission type the Army could have required of a combat unit with the exception of an airborne assault. Amazingly, World War II cavalry's accomplishments came with a written doctrine that had virtually no relationship to the reality of the battlefield, and with an organization and equipment designed to accomplish only one narrow aspect of the actual operational missions assigned.

The World War II cavalry doctrine proved to be woefully inadequate to the experience of the mechanized cavalry in combat. However, that experience provided the foundation of the armored cavalry doctrine and organizations that followed and which served the Army with particular effectiveness in Vietnam and Desert Storm. The sound principles of mobility, command and control, fire power, and combined arms were the basis for its success. These principles, embodied in the past and current cavalry structure, should not be ignored when looking forward to future Force XXI unit design. Ultimately the mechanized cavalry experience in World War II validated the original concept envisioned by General Daniel Van Vooris in the 1930s of a cavalry force that performed all of the traditional missions of cavalry, but substituted motor power for the horse.



(1)Robert H. Scales, Certain Victory, The US Army in the Gulf War (Washington D.C.: Office of the Chief of Staff, US Army, 1993), 261-262.
(2)US Army, The General Board, "Tactics, Employment, Technique, Organization and Equipment of Mechanized Cavalry Units" (United States Forces European Theater, 1945), app. 13, 2.
(3)US Army, FM 17-22, Reconnaissance Platoon and Reconnaissance Company (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1950), 4.
(4)US Army, FM 17-35, Reconnaissance Battalion, Armored Division (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1951), 3.
(5)US Army, FM 17-22, Reconnaissance Platoon and Reconnaissance Company, 3.
(6)US Army, FM 17-35, Armored Cavalry Platoon, Troop, and Squadron (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1960), 159.
(7)Ibid., 88.
(8)Ibid., 160.
(9)US Army, TO&E 17-51, Armored Cavalry Regiment (light) (Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1948), 3.
(10)US Army, FM 17-95, Cavalry Operations (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991), 1-1 to 1-2.
(11)James M. Gavin, "Cavalry and I Don't Mean Horses, Armor (May-June, 1954): 18.
(12)Ibid., 19.
(13)William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976), 216-217.
(14)US Army, 1st Armored Division, "Preliminary Lessons Learned During Operation Desert Storm" (Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, 19 March 1991), 1.
(15)Jim Pigg, "Why Cav Changed in the Seventies," Armor (January -February, 1995): 3.
(16)Robert Wilson, Letter to the Deputy Commander, US Army Armor Center, undated.
(17)Morris J. Boyd, "Information Operations," Military Review (November 1994): 22.

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