The last cavalry charge - Eastern Front WWII

#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
 
#4
tropper66 said:
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
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
FrankIG said:
tropper66 said:
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
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!
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
 
#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

Washington -- U.S. special forces working with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan have ridden in cavalry charges against Taliban militia positions, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

``In Afghanistan, a country we think of in somewhat medieval terms, our special forces have taken a page from the past, from the history of the horse cavalry with our soldiers armed with swords and rifles, maneuvering on horseback,'' Wolfowitz said in a speech last night.

The Pentagon has said in general terms that U.S. special forces are working with Northern Alliance units to improve their military tactics, coordinate among their factions and direct strikes by U.S. aircraft against Taliban targets.

Wolfowitz read excerpts from declassified field reports that describe some of the experiences of those special forces in battle.

``I am advising a man on how best to employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55 (tanks), mortars, artillery, personnel carriers and machine guns -- a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun,'' wrote one commando in an October 25 report, Wolfowitz said. ``They have done this every day we have been on the ground.''

``I have observed a gunner who walked 10 plus miles to get to the fight, who was proud to show me his artificial right leg from the knee down,'' said the report.

The dispatch relayed how Northern Alliance horsemen ``bounded from spur to spur to attack Taliban strong points -- the last several kilometers under mortar, artillery fire. They have killed over 125 Taliban while losing only eight,'' the commando wrote.

``And with that,'' said Wolfowitz, ``one of our amazing special forces members went off on a cavalry charge with a Northern Alliance commander.''
 
#12
sandmanfez said:
November 2001

Washington -- U.S. special forces working with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan have ridden in cavalry charges against Taliban militia positions, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

``In Afghanistan, a country we think of in somewhat medieval terms, our special forces have taken a page from the past, from the history of the horse cavalry with our soldiers armed with swords and rifles, maneuvering on horseback,'' Wolfowitz said in a speech last night.

The Pentagon has said in general terms that U.S. special forces are working with Northern Alliance units to improve their military tactics, coordinate among their factions and direct strikes by U.S. aircraft against Taliban targets.

Wolfowitz read excerpts from declassified field reports that describe some of the experiences of those special forces in battle.

``I am advising a man on how best to employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55 (tanks), mortars, artillery, personnel carriers and machine guns -- a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun,'' wrote one commando in an October 25 report, Wolfowitz said. ``They have done this every day we have been on the ground.''

``I have observed a gunner who walked 10 plus miles to get to the fight, who was proud to show me his artificial right leg from the knee down,'' said the report.

The dispatch relayed how Northern Alliance horsemen ``bounded from spur to spur to attack Taliban strong points -- the last several kilometers under mortar, artillery fire. They have killed over 125 Taliban while losing only eight,'' the commando wrote.

``And with that,'' said Wolfowitz, ``one of our amazing special forces members went off on a cavalry charge with a Northern Alliance commander.''
Well I'll be dmned.
 
#13
4(T) said:
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.
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?
 
#16
Outside Cardiff City Hall there is a 17/21st Lancer in full gear and on horseback,the horse has all four feet on the deck showing that neather rider or horse where killed in action. The rider is Captain Godfrey Morgan and the horse is Sir Briggs. They both survived the Charge of the Light Brigade and Morgan brought his charger home with him. It's grave is in the garden at Tredegar House on the outscerts of Newport.
 
#18
As has been mentioned. There's a difference between riding a horse to the battle, then dismounting to fight and an actual cavalry charge with sabres flashing and all that.

The Russkis employed large numbers of cavalry and the German cavalry arm actually expanded from 1943 onwards although not armed with sabres. The German cavalry handed their sabres in during late 1940 so were not equipped to carry out a charge in the old sense of the word from then on. The Russkis however, along with the cossacks in German service did keep their Shashkas and i can see it being quite probable that 'charges' might have occured after the Italian job on the Eastern Front.
Linky

If you google about for Soviet shashka you'll likely be able to find a WWII period one for sale. I've got one up on the living room wall, very nice it is too.
 
#19
when the Australian Light Horse charged at the battle of Gaza they used Bayounets
 

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