Book Review: Soviet Cavalry Operations during the Second World War & the Genesis of the Operational Manoeuvre Group


by John S. Harrell

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xv, 336+. Illus., maps, diagr., gloss, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1526743027

The Last Great Cavalry War

During World War II the U.S.S.R. was the only combatant to make extensive use of seemingly obsolete mounted cavalry, with considerable success. In this book, Harrel, a retired major general and the author of The Nisibis War, takes an insightful look at that seemingly illogical decision.

Harrel opens with a look at the American Civil War, in which cavalry several times secured important operational results (e.g., Grant’s first Vicksburg campaign). Some Russian soldiers combined this concept with Cossack traditions of raiding and dismounted combat, and during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) – about which one wishes Harrel would have said more –to gain a significant advantage by the operational use of cavalry.

Harrel then traces the evolution of Russian thought on the operational and strategic uses of cavalry. He looks at lessons learned from World War I, on the Eastern Front, but also from Allenby’s campaign in Palestine, and then the Russian Civil War, during which Stalin served with the cavalry. During the interwar period, Stalin’s close friend Marshal Buddeny developed a very effect horse breeding program, and the mounted arm suffered least during the purges. That Soviet industry could not produce sufficient motor vehicles to fully equip the army, also helped preserve the role of cavalry.

Harrel then devotes about two-thirds of his text to the role of cavalry in the “Great Patriotic War”, during the opening phases of which the mounted arm was probably the readiest branch of the Red Army. He shows how failures, as well as successes, furthered Soviet doctrine on the uses of cavalry. We see changes in organization, equipment, and employment, the impact of Lend-Lease, which brought American trucks into the picture, freeing cavalry from horse-drawn logistics, and more.

There’s a lot to be learned about Russian cavalry in Soviet Cavalry Operations during the Second World War, and also about the evolution of Soviet “deep battle” concepts which are still of value today. An excellent read.


Note: Soviet Cavalry Operations during the Second World War is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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