World War II US Cavalry Units Book Review

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World War II US Cavalry Units: Pacific Theater

Osprey Elite Series Book 175

By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Peter Dennis

Softcover, 64 pages, bibliography, and index

Published by Osprey Publishing October 2009

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84603-451-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-451-0

Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

A minor bit of trivia is that most nations still had horse-mounted cavalry units at the beginning of the Second World War, a few nations retaining them until the end.  For the U.S. Army, the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941 demonstrated that the cavalry could not keep pace with mechanized units and even the most die-hard officers realized the era of the horse was near an end.  Still, the last combat actions of the U.S. cavalry were in the defense of the Philippines – the last U.S. cavalry charge was on 16JAN42 when a platoon from the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) charged a vastly superior Japanese force crossing the river at Morong and held until reinforced.  They continued to fight as cavalry until starvation of the troops at Bataan forced them to slaughter their mounts for food in March.  Thereafter they fought as infantry, many forming the nuclei of guerrilla groups rather than surrender.

Most U.S. cavalry regiments gave up their horses and transitioned into infantry regiments during the war.  The 112th Regiment was noteworthy in deploying to New Caledonia and equipping with Australian horses.  It was soon found that the horses were not well suited for the jungle terrain and that they did not find sufficient nourishment in the local vegetation, compelling the 112th to return their mounts and reorganize as infantry in March 1943.  A peculiarity of the horseless cavalry units is they maintained their traditions, keeping uniform articles such as specialized boots and their organizational structure.  Compared to standard infantry regiments a cavalry regiment was half the strength and lacked many of the heavier supporting weapons.  The cavalry was also organized with two rifle troops per squadron, while the infantry had three rifle companies plus a weapons company per battalion.  This made the horseless cavalry regiments weaker and less tactically flexible than standard infantry regiments.

Given the unusual subject, I found this book fascinating.  It is a standard-format Osprey Elite volume, brief but well-illustrated.  It is of the “facts and figures” style, listing the component elements of the units described and their actions, but this gives the reader a firm understanding of organization and composition of these unusual formations.  Recommended for those nostalgic for the cavalry or curious about their transition from the horse.

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12 thoughts on “World War II US Cavalry Units Book Review

  1. My godfather was in the cavalry pre-war/early WWII. He vividly remembers his training, and also the day they came to take the horses away. He had some great stories of his stateside training. He couldn’t talk about France, Belgium, the Bulge, etc.

    A note: to the best of my knowledge, US Army infantry battalions had four companies per battalion: three regular companies (A, B, and C Co.) and a heavy weapons company (D co.) for the 1st battalion, and likewise for 2nd batt. (E, F, G, and H was the heavy weapons comapny). My uncle was a platoon sgt. in the heavy weapons company (H Co.) of 2/167th Infantry (4th Alabama) in WWII and was KIA on Mapia Island off the coast of New Guinea in Nov. of ’44. I proudly served in B Co., 1/167th Infantry (4th Alabama) (Mechanized) in the 1980’s.

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    1. Thanks Warren, the cavalry TOE evolved several times during the war and I managed to confuse myself! Even the weapons platoons within the cavalry troops were much more lightly equipped than their infantry counterparts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I don’t have my references to hand right now, but I do know that the heavy weapons company in a regular infantry outfit was armed with water-cooled .30 cals and 81 mm mortars. This makes me think the cavalry were likely armed with air-cooled .30 cals and 60 mm mortars. I *think*.

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      2. Everything seems to have been pushed up the TOE for cavalry, the book indicates they initially didn’t even have BARs at the squad level, and the weaps platoons were just MGs. They pushed more heavy weapons into the formations as the war went on, but they were still understrength and lightly armed compared to standard formations.

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  2. I had just read about that last cavalry charge a couple months ago, it was the first I knew of it! I thought it was interesting that not only were they mounted, but they were using their Colt pistols, secured by a lanyard, as their primary weapon (I guess that makes sense on horseback?). Definitely an oddity in a World War II order of battle. Well, odd for the western allies; I believe the Soviets used such forces throughout.

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      1. German mechanization didn’t run too deep either, never enough trucks for the infantry.
        For all the “last charge” comments I’ve seen, it seems horse cavalry still ends up getting used in certain very remote settings (like Afghanistan).

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