Soviet Cavalry Operations During The Second World War, & The Genesis of the Operational Manoeuvre Group

One of the neglected areas of WWII history is the use of horses and mules, the main attention being focused on all the new weapons that appeared in huge numbers and revolutionized warfare. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht both made extensive use of the horse to draw artillery and supply wagons across the vast expanses of the Soviet Union. The Red Army made great use of cavalry which played a major role in eventual victory – Very Highly Recommended.

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NAME: Soviet Cavalry Operations During The Second World War, & The Genesis of the Operational Manoeuvre Group
FILE: R3022
AUTHOR: John S Harrel
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War II, World War 2, Second World War, Eastern Front, armour, horses, cavalry, hit and run raids, partisans

ISBN: 1-52674-302-7

IMAGE: B3022.jpg
BUYNOW: tinyurl.com/y22n6wv5
LINKS: 
DESCRIPTION: One of the neglected areas of WWII history is the use of horses and mules, the main attention being focused on all the new weapons that appeared in huge numbers and revolutionized warfare. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht both made extensive use of the horse to draw artillery and supply wagons across the vast expanses of the Soviet Union. The Red Army made great use of cavalry which played a major role in eventual victory – Very Highly Recommended.

When WWII began, no combatant nation had achieved the full equipment of its army for mechanized warfare. This meant that horses were still in widespread use. The closest any army got to in 1939 was the British Army. The overall size of this force was small because of the British dislike of Standing Armies. Consequently the total number of tanks, personnel carriers and lorries was small. In the main, the British infantry still went into battle on foot, but they and their equipment, supplies and ammunition was carried to the fighting on trucks. They did have the Universal Carrier, or Bren Gun Carrier, available in some numbers and these vehicles carried support weapons, towed anti-tank artillery and carried squads of soldiers to and on the battlefield. The British tanks were also superior in performance to the German tanks of 1939/40 but available in smaller numbers and rarely used in blitz krieg battle groups, being were spread thinly.

When the Germans invaded Russia, they still relied on horses and mules to haul artillery and supplies, but their main force was by then mechanized and equipped with Main Battle Tanks that were superior technically to the Soviet armour and available in relatively large numbers. Troops and field artillery were carried on half tracks that could keep up with the tanks and move soldiers around the battlefield. Most of the forward supply vehicles were also motorized, horses and mules largely being used in the rear areas to haul supply wagons and larger artillery pieces. The Germans were also introducing assault guns and tank killers where tank chassis were used with new bodywork, without a turret, that carried a larger gun with limited traverse and elevation but thick frontal armour and low profile.

The Red Army was an interesting mixture of horses and vehicles. They did have large numbers of tanks although many were obsolete or poorly maintained and deployed. They had large numbers of artillery pieces and the Red Army was always concentrated on artillery. They lacked numbers of personnel carriers and trucks. In the opening stages of the German invasion, the German forces cut through Soviet opposition, destroying large numbers of vehicles, mechanized or horse-drawn, often by the use of ground attack aircraft flying under air superiority established quickly by the Luftwaffe.

The Red Army did have a large number of horses available, many as cavalry mounts, the result of a very effective pre-war breeding programme. Uniquely, they developed tactics to use this cavalry in aggressive action against the Germans and the horse did have some advantages. Cavalry formations could operate in any season and made little noise as they moved on the enemy. When the German vehicles were disabled by mud and snow, Red Army cavalry could scythe through them in hit and run attacks much as their forebears had when attacking the retreating Napoleonic forces more than a century before.

As the war proceeded, the Soviets received a great deal of equipment from America and Britain. They were less appreciative of the American Grant and Sherman tanks because they were inferior to the T-34 and KV-1 Soviet designs, but their numbers were very welcome and they began re-equipping Soviet cavalry units. The American half tracks and lorries were very welcome and allowed the Red Army to carry most of its large infantry formations into battle, also using tank riders to keep supportive infantry always up with the tanks to take out German infantry and anti-tank artillery. The Russians also greatly appreciated the British armour they received. The Universal Carrier was a great success, towing heavy machine guns and anti-tanks guns on sledges through the snow where before their crews had been forced to pull them manually. The British infantry tanks, like the Matilda, were also very popular because they fitted into Soviet infantry tactics and proved able to destroy German armour while shrugging off the smaller German anti-tank artillery. Much of this equipment went to cavalry units, but the horse remained in use to the end of the war and cavalry accounted for many German casualties, also working with partisans as the Germans fell back towards Germany.