The last cavalry charge - Eastern Front WWII

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Virgil, Jan 23, 2009.

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  1. [From a comment I made in another thread on airborne]

    The last cavalry charge in history was on August 12, 1942 by an Italian Cav Reg't of 600 troopers against a Soviet Army battalion.

    The Most Famous Cavalry Charge of WWII

    The Italian 3rd Dragoons Savoia Cavalry Regiment conducted one of the last charges by horse mounted soldiers in modern warfare. (I believe it's commonly accepted now as the last charge.)

    In 1942, horse cavalry's days were numbered. After nearly 3000 years of service on the battlefield the cavalryman was rapidly becoming obsolete with the cavalry charge made impractical by the machinegun and the horse being replaced by much faster moving armored vehicles.

    The beginning of the war saw charges from Polish, British Indian, and American cavalry on distant battlefields around the world in isolated incidents but the best remembered is that of the 250-year old Italian 3rd Dragoons Savoia Cavalleggeri (Cavalry Regiment) of the Prince Amedeo Duke of Aosta “Fast” (Celere) Division while fighting the Soviets on the Eastern Front.

    On August 23, 1942 the Soviets pushed a gap between the Italian Army its flank with the German 6th Army along the River Don in the Ukraine. Into this gap was rushed the most mobile fresh unit in available, the cavalrymen of the Savoia Regiment

    Sent to the Eastern Front by Italian strongman Mussolini to uphold his end of Hitler’s Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, the cavalrymen of the Savoia Regiment were a hold over from the dashing age of horse mounted combat.

    They still carried sabers, and even augmented their Italian blades with captured hilt-less Russian cossack shashka swords. They carried the 1891/38 model Carcano carbines but also augmented them with captured Soviet PPSh41 submachine guns and grenades.

    Although they wore steel helmets they emblazoned them with black crosses, in commemoration of the Battle of Madonna di Campana in 1706 where the regiment had captured a French battle flag. Each trooper wore a red necktie in honor of a wounded dispatch rider who delivered an important message n the battlefield in the 1790s. Their commander, Colonnello Alessandro Bettoni-Cazzago, was a gentleman from a royal lineage as were many of the units other 600 officers and men.

    The regiment was organised into four squadrons, one of whom was dismounted to a lack of horses during the hard campaign.

    On August 24, 1942, after a day of masking movements and light skirmishing Colonel Bettoni decided a charge against the Soviet positions stood a chance of stopping them. At dawn of the next day, on a wet Ukrainian morning the regiment assembled.

    Mounting the charge to flying regimental flags, bugles, drawn sabers and a combined cry of hundreds of men calling “Savoia!, Savoia!” and “Caricat” (charge) the three mounted squadrons of Italians rode forward at a gallop into the Soviet lines. They transitioned through the traditional thousand year old practice of starting at a trot, then a canter then a full gallop.

    Supported by the dismounted 4th Squadron and the regiment’s machine gun squadron they broke the back of the 2000-strong Siberian 812th Infantry Regiment. In the victorious charge the Italians lost 40 cavalrymen (including the commander of the 4th Squadron, Captain Abba) with another 79 wounded and almost 100 precious horses but they inflicted over 150 casualties on the Soviets and captured some 900 unfortunate Siberians along with a collection of sixty mortars, artillery pieces and machine guns.

    The regiment, founded in 1692, by Gian Piossasco de Rossi from one of the oldest Italian noble families, won two gold medals and 54 silver medals for that day….and every old horse soldier in Valhalla shed a tear.

    Colonel Bettoni returned to Italy in 1943 and became a leader in the anti-Mussolini resistance, forever loyal to the Duke of Savoy rather than Il Duce. He mysteriously disappeared in 1951.

    The flag of the Savioa Regiment that was carried into battle that day is now preserved at the Villa Italia in Cascais.

    The regiment still exists as Reggimento Savoia Cavalleria. It is now equipped with armored vehicles and based at Grosseto in Tuscany, having traded in its horses for good in 1943 when it was briefly disbanded. The troopers still wear red ties and black crosses, but now also have their annual regimental dinner on August 24th, in memory of their last charge.

    Sources

    Tucker, Spencer Encyclopedia of World War II
    Luigi Barzini Jr. Pride Of Italy Sport Illustrated, April 29, 1957
    Andreanelli Sergio The Last Cavalry Charge in WWII” The Shotgun News, March 1990
    Fowler, Jeffery T, Axis Cavalry in World War II
    Dunnigan James F Dirty Little Secrets of World War II
    Farrell, Nicholas "Sabres for savoy". Spectator, The. Oct 31, 1998.
    Philip S. Jowett, Stephen Andrew The Italian Army 1940-45 - 2000
    Stato Maggiore Dell’Esercito – Ufficio Storico (General Staff of the Army – Historical Office). Le Operaazioni Delle Unità Italiane Al Fronte Russo (1941-1943). Rome, 2000
     
  2. Yer but the best charge was the twelve mins in the valley of death, did you know that the current Prince Obolensky served in the 17/21 Lancers in the 70s
     
  3. Nice one Virgil - that was news to me :)
     
  4. Worked with him as we were in 4 Bde together with the Boneheads. The laugh was having a Russian 'Aristo' as their Int Officer (Horses for Courses!!)

    Edited once for bone spelling and grammar!
     
  5. Going on a train Guard with him was a laugh ,the Russkys didn't know WTF to do
     
  6. I'm not sure anyone can define or pinpoint the "last cavalry charge". E.g. the Russians were still using large cavalry formations right through to VJ day - long after the Italian army had ceased to function.
     
  7. Thr Rhodies still had GREYS HORSE up to the late 1970s
     
  8. real cavalry
     

    Attached Files:

  9. What about the Germans, they still had cavalry right up until the end of the war
    1st Cavalry Corps
    14th SS Cavalry(Cossack) Corps
    15th Cossack Corps

    These units where still on the Orbat in April 1945, In fact some Cav Divs where only formed in late 1943
     
  10. Well may be.

    But who knows details of actions by the Russian-Mongolian Cavalry Mechanised Group on the right flank of the the Soviet offensive into Manchuria in August 1945? Actually the Soviets used KMGs relatively widely thru WW2. I can't believe that their cavalry elements didn't sometimes charge. Bear in mind that a KMG was roughly equivalent of a corps in western terms not just some pissant group of donkey wallopers!
     
  11. November 2001

     
  12. Well I'll be dmned.
     
  13. There's a difference between an old fashioned cavalry charge and using horses to as transport for personnel or equipment; the later of which was very common. Perhaps that's the rub.

    I'm guessing with the popularity of WWII history and so many participants the Red Army kept or recorded unit histories, especially late in the war as opposed to early on. At the very least these boys were among the last 'recorded' cavalry charges.

    Many Italian units merely 'switched sides' [certainly there's a joke there somewhere], some remained loyal to Mussolini's northern fascist regime courtesy of Adolf and continued to function until the end of the war.
     
  14. Surely we haven't had the last cavalry charge yet?
     
  15. What an excellent thread, wish I something useful to contribute.
    john
    Shouldn't have got ratted last night.