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"Cavalry Combat at Night" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on Russian cavalry tactics was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 8, Sept. 24, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


This report is a translation of an article, "Night Combat by Cavalry," by a Russian cavalry officer, describing Soviet tactics in cavalry night operations generally. As a specific example it describes the capture of a village.

"Before the war began many of our people were opposed to the creation of large masses of cavalry. They were motivated by the fact that since modern war was one of motors, the use of cavalry was limited. This thought has become increasingly prevalent since the beginning of the war, at the outset of which, the Germans were successful. It was said that effective use of cavalry against enemy tanks and mechanized units supported by aviation was impossible.

"When the German onslaught was at its peak, however, Belov's cavalry corps demonstrated many times that cavalry could operate successfully against tanks and mechanized forces. Without even mentioning the numerous raids in the enemy rear performed by our cavalry, it is now proved that cavalry has its place and can accomplish a wide range of missions. At Rostov, the Don and Kuban cavalry were of inestimable value in aiding the troops on the southern front. There, Belov's Guard Corps was pitted against Guderian, whom the Germans called 'the Invincible'. But when the engagement was over, Guderian's 2nd Motorized Division and 17th Tank Division were forced to withdraw with great losses.

"The employment of cavalry against tanks is a difficult operation which is aggravated by constant aerial threats. But by making use of all the modern weapons cavalry can accomplish its mission.

"There are now two principal characteristics of cavalry tactics: first, operations are conducted at night to avoid losses from the air; second, cavalry attacks are made dismounted. The mobility of cavalry, and its ability to appear suddenly on the flanks and in the enemy rear and disappear just as suddenly, can all be accomplished by night action and affords a great tactical advantage. Cavalry is distinguished by the suddenness of its attacks, and operates most successfully at night

"The success of a night attack depends greatly on careful reconnaissance of the enemy dispositions. A commander's reconnaissance includes the approaches to the position, and the location of firing positions and outposts. While it is still light, all measures are taken to provide absolute concealment and correct orientation. The plan of every assault group is worked out in detail as to which units will actually seize outposts and sentries, and which will deal with the automatic riflemen, the machine guns, and the tank crews at the moment they come out of bivouac. This is essential.

"Such a plan for the attack is accomplished without firing a shot, unless the Germans open fire, in which case all our fire power is brought into action.

"Experience has shown that it is difficult for cavalry to use artillery for offensive purposes in night operations. Therefore, we use it principally in defensive night operations. Normally, the regiments and squadrons are accompanied by their heavy machine-gun carts. Experience has shown that these weapons are sufficient to accomplish the mission. Antitank units are equipped with antitank weapons, grenades, and bottles of gasoline.

"All individual and horse equipment is carefully inspected. Stirrups are wrapped in felt or straw. About 5 to 8 kilometers from the enemy we leave the machine gun carts in the open and carry the guns and mortars in pack. The troops dismount against in open areas not far from the enemy outposts, and the horseholders conceal the horses. From this point on, the action is dismounted.

"All supporting weapons are so placed as to provide fire for the withdrawal of the units when they have accomplished their mission. If the mission is to seize a particular point, the machine guns and mortars give continuous support. In a case where the mission is to destroy an enemy unit, the troops return when the mission has been accomplished. Therefore, our night attacks are planned so as to be completed and still leave 2 or 3 hours of darkness to permit withdrawal to our own positions without sustaining air attacks.

"The following is a typical example of cavalry night operations against a village. Two days were required to prepare this attack. The village was 22 kilometers from our division position. A troop had been sent out on reconnaissance. It concealed itself in the forest, from where it observed road movements, and determined the enemy strength and location of outposts, tank parks and night bivouacs of crews, as well as of the headquarters and rear elements.

"The approaches to the town were important. West and south were two ravines inaccessible to tanks. The decision was to attack from the north and east. Attack from these directions would permit cutting off any attempt of the Germans to withdraw along the highway which ran north of the city. It would catch the enemy under crossfire and at the same time avoid the danger of firing on our own troops. Since one regiment attacked from north to south and the other from east to west, this danger was averted.

"The division moved out in 2 columns at 1900 hours, and at midnight it had assembled 3 kilometers from the town, where it dismounted at once and went into action. In order to insure surprise, the attack was made without signaling. The outposts were jumped without noise, and the units moved into the town to the bridge; Here 3 German guards opened fire, but it was too late. By this time, our troops had thrown grenades into the houses occupied for quarters, the assault groups had attacked the firing positions, and 15 tanks had been put out of action. The remaining tanks moved to the highway, but our pioneer units had blown up the bridge. The fight ended at 0500 hours, and before daylight (about 0800 hours in December) the troops had returned to their positions unnoticed by enemy aircraft.

"As a result of such attacks, the Germans are now posting strong outposts, and even more careful reconnaissance is required."


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