Armored Cavalry Journal, May-June 1948

U.S. Constabulary Horse Cavalry

by Ray E. Williams

On our far-flung occupation fronts the horse plays
a small but important part in the duty scheme. At
work or on show the tradition goes on.

    The cavalry horse and the horse soldier, colorful survivors of the world's first mobile armored forces, are still active in one modern theater of operation - in occupied Germany's American Zone - as part of the security force of the United States Constabulary.

   "As long as the U.S. Constabulary retains its police function in Germany, horse soldiers will be necessary to perform missions in terrain unsuitable to motorized and mechanized units." That is the 1948 statement of Constabulary's deputy chief of staff in charge of operations, placing the mark of approval for a job well done by the mounted troopers, and pointing up the necessity for this type of soldiery in occupied Germany today.

   In the rough mountain areas and forested stretches impractical to the most modern of "unstoppable" vehicles, the horse trooper and his horse still accomplish difficult missions. Where jeeps, weasels, tanks and ducks find the going impassable even to their specialized cross-country abilities, the horseman is still king. He has mobility to outstrip the man on foot - only other practical method of travel there - and he commands the respect of the pedestrian with the authority inherent in the mounted man over the man on foot. He can cover from two to four times the area that can be patrolled by the foot soldier and do it more efficiently.

   The table of organization in the United States Constabulary provides one platoon of horse troopers to each regiment. The platoon dates back to the origin of the Constabulary in 1946. Even before the present elite security force of the American Zone became fully operational on July 1 1946, the horse platoons had been planned and were in training as part of the command of Major General Ernest N. Harmon. They were conceived as necessary specialized units and were earmarked for strenuous duty where their capabilities made them most suitable for use.

   The platoon is small and compact. It includes one officer and 32 enlisted men. Thirty horses are contained in each unit, all of German army origin, from SS and Wehrmacht units who utilized horses widely in areas unfavorable to vehicles. At V-E day, there were many excellent horses left in the ruin of the Nazi war machine and some of these were desirable cavalry types, trained by the Germans as cavalry mounts.

   There is a rating for every man in the Constabulary horse platoon, once he qualifies for his job. There is a Technician Fifth Grade rating or higher for each man. The following chart shows the platoon organization.

   1 Off, Lt, CO      1 Staff Sgt     (same as 1st)     (same as 1st)
   1 Tech Sgt, Plat Sgt     1 Sgt
   1 Staff Sgt, Stable Sgt     6 Tech 5, Troopers
   1 Tech 3, Horseshoer     1 Tech 5, Chauffer
   1 Cpl, Scout Msgr
   1 Tech 5, Wireman

 33 Pistols, Cal 45      4 Tractors, 5-6 ton, 4x4
 27 Rifles, M1       4 Semitrailers, 4-6 ton
   4 Submachine Guns    30 Horses, riding
 30 Machetes, 18 in

   4 SCR 300 radios      Same as Constab with extra
   1 Tank, watering M1940      Breeches and Boots, riding
 30 Bags, feeding
 29 Saddles, McClellan M1928
   1 Saddle, Mil. Phillips

   The horse trooper must first of all be a good soldier. He must be alert, aggressive and capable of acting on his own initiative. He must be a skilled policeman, a capable rider, an expert with his pistol and other weapons and he must be able to care for his mount and additional equipment.

   Advantage of using horse soldiers in controlling disturbances and disorders are well known. In Germany the inherent respect of the man on the ground for mounted authority is even more marked. This factor has been appropriately utilized by commanders having horse troopers at their disposal.

   This T/O is still in use. It is flexible and can be varied as the mission requires, permitting use of the unit as a whole or use in its component parts, each reasonably complete in itself.

   Advocates of increased use of horse platoons recommend additional horses to provide organic relief and rotation of the animals on the more difficult assignments and the addition of one or more basics to the headquarters section to provide a larger platoon reserve and to make possible better rotation for the field sections. The need for two radio-equipped jeeps is also pointed out since present communication, provided by four SCR 300s, offers only sketchy intra-platoon contacts and the mounts are difficult to carry through wooded stretches or over rough terrain on a rider's back. They are also difficult to operate at the "carry" and are subject to the usual limitations of this particular equipment in performance.

   The platoon carries no kitchen section and has a minimum of small one or two-burner gasoline field heating units. When operating alone the platoon must use civilian equipment and privately hired cooks or depend upon emergency rations which are not satisfactory in continuous operations. In joint operations the platoon is attached to a squadron or troop of Constabulary and can depend upon the parent organization for both communications and messing.

   A typical "joint operation" where a horse platoon is attached to a troop of Constabulary, is exemplified by an operation near Fulda in Greater Hesse last spring. Here, in addition to the usual difficulties encountered in operating tight border patrols along the American-Russian Zone boundaries, the job was complicated by old-fashioned "cattle rustling."

   Two large displaced persons concentrations were critical points in the area. Illegal border crossers with their eyes on edible beef-on-the-hoof were tempted by the considerable stocks of cattle on the American side. The DPs, brought to Germany as war laborers, had little love for Germans but a marked attraction for fresh meat. Cattle rustling flourished as a well-organized industry, synchronized by mock-up shootings and disorders against Germans in one community while other gangs quietly spirited away animals from nearby communities which had been left alone while troops rushed to riot call duties. It was a situation ideal for horse soldiers who could patrol and comb the wooded areas and hidden crannies in which the cattle could be concealed until darkness made their removal possible.

   To meet this particular situation, a large perimeter was established, generally enclosing the threatened livestock. Regular vehicle patrols from the troop circled the roadnet of the area or were held in readiness to be dispatched by radio to intercept any point of the perimeter. The interior and "rough spots" were assigned to mounted patrols.
   In daylight hours the cavalrymen rode the high ground, scouting from peak OPs with field glasses. From these vantage points alarms could be sent by radio to the platoon NCS or riders could dash to radio cars of the troop, located in known positions. At night the troopers patrolled the low grounds, observing skyline silhouettes. They established night listening posts in more critical areas. Jeep patrols were contacted when necessary and given intercept missions, leaving the horses available for close searching and ground-combing.

   The solution did not stop cattle thefts entirely as it was necessary to patrol a large area, heavily populated or infiltrated by potential cattle rustlers. However, it did reduce it to a minor irritation, recovered many stolen cattle and resulted in arrest of several hundred individuals suspected of connection with the activity. Control work is still a necessity in this area to safeguard property from depredations.

   A typical operation of a platoon working independently was a Rhine River mission in the spring of 1946. The horse unit took over a frontier of more than 36 miles along the Rhine River boundary between the French and American zones, where smuggling, illegal crossings, and similar activities, largely carried on by means of boats, were numerous. The area was marshy, dotted by canals and streams available to small boat traffic, and contained much wooded area in which border violators could hide.

   To accomplish his mission, the platoon commander set up his CP at the south end of the stretch, established a midway point at the center of the frontier and a terminal point at the north end. Each day two trailers were dispatched to these points, one with eight riders to the Midway, one with four to the north point. The trailers were parked and returned with different crews at the end of patrol, terminal points being from 18 to 20 miles from starting points. From midway, four men, operating as two-man patrols, went north and four went south, the latter to end at the CP South point. Four men worked north to Midway from the CP anchor and four worked south from the north point. The patrols ranged along varied routes, staggered hours to prevent "time tabling" by their hard working adversaries.

   Patrols operated seven days a week for ten months. In addition to the regular patrols, many of which were conducted at night, the platoon conducted search and seize operations in suspected centers. It built up an imposing patrol log with total mileage rivaling that of a full troop of Constabulary equipped with jeeps, armored cars and motorcycles. It arrested an impressive number of illegal border crossers, found quantities of illegal gasoline, tires and other black market items, many from Army sources, and built up a general record that earned commendations from the commanding general.

   So strenuous was this operation on the horses that General Harmon dispatched several additional mounts to the unit to afford relief for the hard-working animals.

   Operating without a mess section, the platoon commander established a platoon kitchen in a German gasthaus, had meals prepared by German cooks and operated his unit as a king-size unit. The patrolling troopers carried lunches on patrol, avoiding emergency rations, thus saving both money and appetites. Hot coffee was available at the Midway.

   In still another type of operation, a horse platoon was split into sections and the sections were attached to separate squadrons, thinning the unit almost to the disappearing point. It allowed some horse soldiers where their capabilities were most needed, however, and the horsemen covered difficult gaps along a wide frontier.

   On 15 March 1947, Military Government took over the borders with German Border Police. Constabulary units took up another operational phase, withdrawing to kasernes and holding squadrons as intact as possible. A belt in depth behind the border was then patrolled with check points and shifting road blocks, and a reserve was always available to be rushed to the border crossing points upon call. With this phase entered and the heavy patrol schedule reduced along the zonal boundaries, the work of the horse platoons was lightened and some were withdrawn for "palace guard" work and training at large headquarters establishments. One of these is the superbly trained platoon attached to the crack 16th Squadron in Berlin. It is widely used in honor guard duties and lends color and pomp to ceremonies in the quadripartite capital.

   However the platoon carries its full share in responsibilities of the 16th Squadron which has the twofold mission of maintaining security in the American sector of Berlin and of patrolling the 75-mile stretch of the Autobahn and its feeder roads between Berlin and Helmstedt.

   Another outstanding platoon is the swank 15th Regiment horse unit currently assigned to Constabulary Headquarters in Heidelberg. The platoon continues a strenuous training schedule in addition to its special events calendar. Drill is held daily with "jumping" twice a week. One successful horse show, featuring the platoon's jumps and precision drill, was held in October and more are planned.

   Rotation of the horse units provides variety, and places the horse soldiers where they are most needed. These assignments are not based primarily upon organic assignment, however. For example, when the 15th Regiment sent its platoon to Constabulary Headquarters to succeed the second platoon which had been there, the 15th Regiment drew the 6th Regiment's platoon for operations and the 6th was assigned the platoon of the 11th Regiment which had an area where horses were not critical.

   The 14th Regiment's platoon which will hold its second Organizational Day on July 1, 1948, is currently in operation around Kassel and Fulda in Northern Hesse. It assists in maintaining Russian-American border security and cooperates closely with the German Border Police there. This platoon rolls up a daily patrol average of some 100 miles, operates check points and road blocks, runs a daily train check and is charged with checking DP installations there.

   The 11th Regiment, before March 15, 1947, operated the Czechoslovakian border and, to cover "blind" spots, accessible to horses, divided its platoon into sections and attached these sections on a squadron basis. The first section was attached to the Eighth Squadron and patrolled 8,000 miles in six months of operations, in addition to conducting raids. One of these, a swoop on a border hotel in an isolated spot, resulted in the arrest of 46 persons involved in illegal border crossing activities.

   The second section operated with the 94th Squadron and was based in a ski lodge at Silberhuette, formerly the recreation center for SS troopers who had charge of Flossenberg Concentration Camp. The third section was attached to the 51st Squadron and patrolled its rough sections of border from a base at Haidmuehle. All sections did excellent work.

   The number of horse soldiers in the American Zone today is not large - less than 200 enlisted men. Their job has never been soft. It was made more difficult by mounts trained in the German manner and understanding only German commands, but it has been a prized assignment and much sought after by Constabulary men who could qualify.

   Selection of horse troopers is based upon keen competition and survival of the fittest. Best type soldiers with experience in handling horses are given priority and for each request from units, three men are usually sent to compete for the vacancy. The best of these are retained, others with promise might be given extra training as prospective cavalry replacements.

   Esprit de Corps in the horse platoons is high. The horse soldiers believe they are good and the record of operations prove it.

                                                                                            This page was sent in by Walter F. Elkins

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