Return of the Horse Soldiers?


U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier use horses and mules in Afghanistan today and have a Field manual on the subject, FM 31-27, PACK ANIMALS IN SUPPORT OF ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES, 15 FEB 2000

As events in Afghanistan have recently shown, there is a place in modern warfare for animal transport, for goods and personnel. Even earlier, when we were providing the then new Stinger MANPADS to the Afghanis in their struggle with the Russians, we also provided Missouri Mules, complete with packsaddles. The experiment was a success and the mules got the stingers to places where they were needed. Horses, mules, and donkeys have played a much larger role in Guerrilla warfare than has been appreciated in the literature on the subject. More than one “A” team in Vietnam used Montagnard ponies for transport. The Rhodesians reactivated the Selous Scouts in their war, before being done in by politics and the Portuguese had uniform success with their anti-guerrilla light dragoons. The concept is not to play cavalry and charge, it is to use four hooves to outrun two feet.

The use of animal mounted men as shock troops has been obsolete since the days of Swiss pike formations, let alone the English longbow, the arquebus and the rifled musket. Our civil war should have driven the concept of the charge forever out of the military mind, but it took the invention of the machine gun to finally drive the glory hounds to ground. The use of mounted men to cover territory at speed, however is alive and well. The horseman can quite easily, and to excellent effect, replace the 2.5 mph infantryman alongside the armored vehicle, in modern war.

Even in “the big one,” WWII, the Russians used Cossack Cavalry to good effect against the Germans and the story bears another telling. Especially since the Russians considered their experiment so important that they clamped a lid on most reports...Except for one deliberate leak to our old Cavalry Journal. Early in the development of mobile armored warfare. It was found that there would be a love-hate relationship between the old “Queen of Battle,” and the new “King of the Killing Zone.” Simply put, any infantryman can kill a tank if he has the right weapons and can slip in under the tanks guns.....So can a horseman

Those turret-mounted weapons can depress only so far and once under them, the anti-tank team is relatively safe. In Vietnam, we used to mount claymores on the hull and turret sides, and one time the action got so close that one TC clubbed a Viet Cong with the cannon tube. As a result of this problem, it has long been known that covering infantry should escort the tanks in close going. This is where ALL conventional current training falls down. Tanks and infantry MUST learn to work together, and they never do, until gallons of blood, lost battles, and dead soldiers teach the lesson anew. The problem, however is basic....Once the infantry is on the ground, the tanks mobility is out the window. The 30 mph charge just got limited to about one mile per hour. What to do? Back then, there were several solutions...none good.

The Germans created the Panzer Grenadier who rode in armored half-tracks. We created the Mechanized Infantry also in half-tracks and later in the first of the APCs, and the Russians created the Desantniki, who rode the shoulders of their hulls and then Descended, into battle with submachine guns. We all encountered the same problem, though. Once dismounted, the charging T-34s, Panzers and Shermans were suddenly leashed to walking, crawling, dodging unarmored grunts.

What was needed, the Russians figured out, was an infantryman who was about nine feet tall, who could march cross-country at tank speed, for about a hundred miles, dash into battle beside the tank, carry several days to a weeks worth of food and ammunition, and be almost self-supporting in the field. Impossible? NO. I have just described a Russian Cossack Cavalryman. A well conditioned horse can march 100 miles in 12 hours, and it is done all over our West in endurance races. Recruiting Cossacks is not difficult, as war is the tribal occupation. All that is necessary is to let it be known that you have a war going on and they will appear, in family groups. They will also provide their own mounts and will be able to keep up with most mechanized operations. Ask them where they learned these almost legendary, impossible skills, and they will tell you. “Study Stuart, Mosby, Morgan, and Grierson.”

But those are our Civil War generals, you protest. Exactly. In 1880, when the Army historical branch finished the O.R. or Official Report of the Civil War, we sent copies of the 80 volume report to all governments in Europe, where they proceeded to gather dust. Except in one country. Russia, where men with the genes of Genghis and Tamerlane provided fertile ground indeed for the seed of mobile warfare. Prince General Golitzen once said, “The American Cavalry has raised to reality the most celestial dreams of the cavalryman, and we in Russia are the only ones who can duplicate them.” Well, not quite, the American West is STILL full of men who can ride and shoot....Young recruitable men. It is also worth noting that in 1880, the Army started publishing the Journal of the US Cavalry, and there was a lively communication among the worldwide cavalry fraternity. UP TO AND INCLUDING WWII!!!!

All during the civil war period in Russia, meaning most of the 1920s, the Red and White Armies were experimenting with our old Indian fighting and civil war knowledge, and learning to blend it in with their new tanks. They had no operational prejudices and used what worked. Reports of extra long rides were published in our Cavalry Journal, as were some of their battles. One Russian cavalry lieutenant, for instance, requested permission from his CO to attend a cavalry gymkhana in Paris. Given permission by that officer, he saddled up and left for Paris. The fact that he was stationed in Vladivostock on the Sea of Japan did not seem to daunt him.

When WWII came along, The Russians sent long cables on just what they were doing to the Germans and how they were doing it. They learned to run long distance, high endurance raids behind German lines, using Cossacks as giant, tank accompanying infantry. One raid lasted 130 days. OK, sure, they lost horses....But horsemeat is edible. As a matter of fact, a tank produces several levels of heat. The exhaust heat is capable of drying meat and the engine room heat will cook horsemeat and carrot/cabbage stews. Back then, the old Russian tankers even used the radiator’s heat to make, I mean antifreeze. One trick that works even with the Abrams is to dent a can and put it in the exhaust air stream. When the dent pops out, the food is hot...But you have to move fast.

Those old cavalrymen kept the Panzerfaust operators and the A-T teams off their light tanks, which in turn protected the horsemen. The problem had been solved and the information was sent to the U.S., and printed, in time for us to have used it. The information is still there, and available. The Journal of the Cavalry is now ARMOR magazine and the old issues still hold the secrets. The information is still valid, and if proper mounts and attitudes can be found, will still profit the nation. Not only can horsemen patrol our borders, they can chase across rugged land where vehicles can’t go and rout terrorists out of their training camps.

Unfortunately, in WWII, We chose to eliminate our horsed branch and rely on an all mechanized army, as our horses could no longer keep up with advancing tanks. Where once we could range the continent on horseback, we could now not expect a full, “40 miles per day on Beans and Hay.” What had happened? Where went the magnificent cavalry that could move 100 miles in a day? Politics and Polo is what happened. The cavalry died simply from under use and ossification of the intellect. A horse, like any other athlete must be kept continually in training or it will grow soft. Keep them in shape and their feats border on the fantastic.

This writer has seen both mules and Spanish mustangs cover extreme distances, out west. The “secret” is no more than constant exercise. One old mule hostler told me that it takes “about half a year” to properly condition an animal. That was the secret of both Gengis and later, Sitting Bull, hard hooved horses kept in shape while the U.S. cavalry doped off in stables and barracks. We lost our horsed cavalry to attitude, not the infernal combustion engine.

For the British, the demise of their horsed cavalry was even worse, for the problem could have been solved by replacing two blockheaded General Officers. When the tanks made their big breakthrough at Cambrai in 1918, a full division of horsed cavalry sat at the town of Fins, twelve miles behind the lines, while general Kavenaugh dithered, and they lost their opportunity. The only unit which escaped his indecision were the Canadians who simply took off into the blue and got slaughtered because they were too few. When the tanks went over the ridgeline at Flesquieres, they skylined themselves and were exposed to the guns and got shot to rags because they had no infantry or cavalry to rush in among the guns and kill the crews.

General Sir G.M. Harper, who commanded the Highlanders, disliked these “rude mechanicals,” and ordered his troops to stay away from the tanks. General Sir C.T. McM Kavenaugh ordered his cavalry division to stand pat. The cavalry did not fail, it was ordered out of battle by a pair of knighted nitwits. The usual accusation is that they couldn’t keep up.....At four miles per hour? Gimme a break, the horse drawn artillery was already through the tank created gap and setting up. Mounted infantry or dragoons could have kept up with the Mk IVs, and they can easily keep up with the pace of guerrilla war.

Turn on your net access, use any good search engine, such as Google, and simply type in, endurance horse racing. It is that simple. 100 mile races are being run all the time, and the times vary between 10 and 12 hours for the distance covered. Nor are the animals being driven to exhaustion, as their times do not count unless the attending vetrenarian certifies the mount as “fit to continue.” As it happens, some of the best times are turned in by adopted Spanish Mustangs, almost fresh off the range, and therein lies a tale. For it was the endurance and hardiness of those animals that made the whole Plains Indian culture possible. Not just the existence of the horse, but the exact hardy type, and moreover, the way the plains people learned from the horse, not from the Spanish, what gaits were best suited to their way of life.

When the horrendous events of Sept 11 hit, I was right in the middle of a wild horse round up in the Pryor mountains of Montana/Wyoming, in the midst of a research project for a book on the western cavalry. What I wanted to know was just how those so-called “Indian ponies” unshod and range fed, for the nomads kept no hayfields, could regularly run the shoes off well-bred cavalry mounts. What I found out not only bears on our interpretation of western history, it has possibilities for the future of guerrilla war. For, as Prince General Golitzen believed, only the Americans and Russians can do this. The trail led straight back to the Spanish conquest of the Southwest and those Spanish Knights with their big chargers.

The Spaniards were facing a problem in those large, blooded war horses of which they thought so highly. They only had a few of the well bred Andalusians to begin with. What they needed was small patrol horses and baggage animals, not chargers. As far as can be determined, the Andalusian war horse was a mixture of the primitive North African Barb which had crossed the straits of Gibraltar with the invading Moors and Arabs, and some undetermined, but large, North European cold-blooded horse.

When the Conquistadors needed more and hardier horseflesh, they simply began importing Barbs. Those were the ones which, lightly guarded or even traded off, the plains Indians got. Many simply escaped and bred into the thousands of fleet-footed wild horses that flowed over our west. Variations led to the Florida “Cracker” horse, which will come up on the net. The Icelandic horse, a somewhat allied breed also has the endurance and gaits and can be found on the net.

Also, however, some Russian stock from the colonies that were working their way down the Pacific coast, seem to have been mixed in to the mustang breed, as it has very peculiar hooves. Not only can the North Plains Mustang live on forage where a thoroughbred would starve, they simply do NOT need horseshoes. One characteristic of the breed is the visible fact that their hoof walls are on the average, three times as thick as a normal horse’s. A Montana wildlife scientist told me that his farrier had said, “you want shoes on this animal, I’ll need an electric drill.” Another feature is that they have a different breed of bacteria in their intestines, which allows them to digest browse, like a deer, instead of needing good quality grass. Simply put, they can live and prosper where a larger horse would starve.

The Pryor mountains figure in the history of the Mustang and its breeding, as they are one of the homes of the breed and still form one of the mustang refuges. In 1803, a Sergeant Pryor who was assigned to the Lewis and Clark expedition, was sent to buy horses from the Nez Perce tribe, who were, even back then, horse breeders of note. Unfortunately, another tribe, the Crow, were horsethieves of note. Pryor bought 40 horses, of which 10 escaped and the rest were stolen by the Crow tribe, who still have their descendants. I have seen those horses operate and they do not use our normal gaits. Nor do many of the wild bands of horses. Not only the hardiness and endurance of the animals was important in Indian military endeavors, its gait also figured in.

Many, not all of the animals have a type of running walk that is as smooth as if you were riding of four footed motorcycle. From either the running walk or what my friend Malesevitch, who owns a black mustang/Arab mare, calls an “extended trot.” you can hold a weapon steady enough to use the sights. That running walk is what the cavalry used to call the Appaloosa shuffle, and even then, not all of that breed has it. My cavalry sergeant grandfather who rode with Pershing, used to call them “grass clippers.”

A Zuni brave in Cody, Wyoming told me that they “help the horse find that gait” and that once the animal proves out, it suddenly becomes quite valuable. A hunter in Greybull Wyoming, when I described the gait to him, said. “That sounds an awful lot like the tall timber gait a moose uses when hunting pressure gets to heavy around here. A normal saddle horse just can’t keep up.” The Indian word for that gait is Qua Pupu Neh. The Icelanders who have the same basic type of small, 13-14 hand horse call the running walk, which will approach 20 mph, the “Tolt.” There is also what is called the “flying pace” which approaches racing speeds. That info will all come up on their pages on the net.

Right, that sounds exactly like the stories the cowboys told me about rounding up mustangs before the advent of the helicopter. One old timer said that they’d take three mounts each to chase the bands of wild ones and that after just one day. “Our mounts looked like they were ready for the glue factory and them damn outlaws were frisking along with their tails in the air, just playing with us.” I have personally seen a band come in, after three hours of being herded with a chopper, and this years foals and the yearlings were still up with the leaders. But, you ask, do we have to have mustangs or can normal horses be trained up for this type of performance. The answer is basically yes, with a few qualifications.

We CAN have high endurance mounts for patrol work, but we’d better also start a controlled breeding program to preserve that hardiness and those special hooves and legs, along with the general Barb build. In order to be able to live on forage, the animal has to be raised from weaning to adulthood on rough forage. A horse that was raised on oats has, in effect, a crippled digestive system. It is in the same condition as the old “muscle cars” that wouldn’t run properly without high test fuel.

This was brought home to me rather pointedly in early 2001. I had stopped off in Douglas, Arizona to take a couple of college computer courses, as I had a bad case of ESO (Equipment Smarter than Operator). As a writer, everybody I sell to is computerized and requires an article or book to be on a floppy as well as paper. And, since I am usually on a tight budget, I choose to stay in less expensive RV parks. This time I was at the Cochise County Fairgrounds, Douglas, Arizona, studying at the local Jr. College and working on my engine (valve job) when a strange cavalcade came trotting in.

A gentleman named Rick Hamby, from Springfield Mo. had gotten ahold of an authentic 1835 Concord Stagecoach, which had been hauling tourists at Branson, Mo. and had a glorious idea. There used to be a network of stage routes all over the west and he had a few contacts in Tombstone, Arizona. The Idea, was to repair and remanufacture the stagecoach and take off into the wild west, duplicating one of the original runs. You can still find the story on the net by simply typing in “The stagecoach journey” It took them a bit longer than the original stagecoaches for several reasons.

First, of course, they didn’t have relay stations, just four Missouri mules named Bonnie and Clyde and Frank and Jesse. The trip logs show that their pace improved markedly as the Mules gained muscle tone. I asked one of their wranglers how long he thought it would take to fully tune up an animal and he thought for a long minute and said. “About 180 days, just to be on the safe side.” This does not, of course address the rough forage problem and the feed for the trip, which took 54 days, Springfield to Tombstone, was provided by a feed and grain company.

The trip also included a small cavalcade of escort riders from a Missouri boys school, and their mounts also, got hardened up. When they took off from Douglas, I was literally astounded by their progress. They were going to take the back road to Tombstone and I figured out about where they’d be when I got out of my computer class and headed off up a dirt road for my intercept point. SURPRISE, they were already bedded down in the old Tombstone airport. They’d gone about 30 miles in about half a day, cavalcade and all. Those animals were, by then, fully trail hardened. When a group of local riders came out the next morning to escort them in. They simply got left, and Rick had to wait for them to make his triumphal entrance into town.

The conclusions to be drawn from this are that we could easily create a working horse patrol on ALL of our continental borders, and in the process harden up both men and animals by keeping them constantly in motion. That was what wrecked the old cavalry. They got soft from playing polo and living off high energy food and being kept in stables. That was the Indian secret and it was also the secret of leaders like Genghis and Tamerlane. The nomad lifestyle kept the animals in condition. With conditioned horses, they were effectively immune from pursuit. The animals which were stabled in castles and fed grain couldn’t catch them. In order to have an effective long range cavalry, you have to keep them in motion, patrolling and scouting. Do that, and they’ll be able to keep up with most cross country vehicles in rough going. In RVN, we used to carry rations, water and beer, for our infantry, and I damn sure wouldn’t complain about lugging a few bushels of oats to keep cavalry up with me.

On the other side of the coin, when the going is good (roads) and the mechanized forces speed up, the cavalry simply loads into stock transports. This was all worked out in the Army maneuvers in 1938 and 1940. They took commercial semi-trailers of a size to take one 8 man cavalry squad, men, animals and equipment, militarized them, and kept up with fully mechanized forces on highways. When the going got rough, the vehicles slowed down but the mounted troops just de-trucked and kept the pace of the march up. They even figured that the horse troops were better at breaking ambushes and road blocks. The horses just went around the roadblock and hit it from behind.

Both our cavalry and the Russian Cossacks figured out how to mesh with automotive forces but because we had oceans to cross, our cavalry got left out of history.....For a time. Maybe now is the time to bring them back, first as border patrol and then as terrorist hunters. We have many light weapons that are supposed to be man portable but are really at the outer edge of what a man can carry. The old rule of thumb for horse packing used to be that an animal shouldn’t be expected to carry more than one quarter of its own weight....Now figure out those 80-100 LB rucksacks. You can, however, take a 1000 LB horse and load quit a bit of military impedimenta on it. I go back to the old army and the 40 pound pack, plus rifle and 100 rounds. If you limit the ruck to say, 50 lbs, one pack horse or mule could support the packs of four men, plus the tack, of course. Looked at another way, How much ammo for a 90mm recoilless or an 81mm mortar could that animal move, let alone long range communications and night vision gear.

More exotic yet is the fact that the Russian 14.5mm cartridge was designed as an anti tank cartridge, and was made for a rifle that could be fired right off the packsaddle of a led horse. If those old Cossacks could do that, we could easily fire a 90mm recoilless or a Javelin right off the pack animal. Let alone carrying half a dozen stingers or a 70mm FFAR pod. So, we could, if we so desired, create a mounted infantry force that could give most terrorists fits in their secluded bases.

The other characteristic of the range horse, the ability to live on rough forage, is a bit trickier. We once had the same long range capability as the tribes. In the 1840s, a regiment of mounted riflemen left Fort Leavenworth for Walla Walla Washington. On arrival, they built a fort and yearly campaigned from first grass to first snow, with no outside supplies. They obviously had range raised animals who were raised on rough forage, could digest it, and absorb it. That capability will take actually raising the animals out in the hills. I think though, that at least the bacteria that live in the animals intestine are transferable. What is NOT transferable is the internal physical distribution system. For that, we probably need to set up a breeding and conditioning program.

This means, of course, that if we adopt horse mounted patrols on our borders, the wild mustangs just became a national asset. We’d also need to bring Icelandic horses and the Florida Cracker, and rebuild our national stud ranches, but it could be done fairly quickly, give us a capability that all other nations have lost, and that the terrorists don’t have. There is only one way to eliminate that threat, and that is to go into their mountains and jungles, bring them out, give them a relatively fair trial and hang them. The only thing these enemies of civilization understand is being dead.

****************** More on the ad hoc SF "Horse Cavalry" in Afghanistan from AUSA's Army magazine:

Unconventional Logisitics
November 2002

By Dennis Steele

During the first few months of the Afghanistan campaign -- as U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers thundered across the plains on horseback and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operators stepped from the shadows -- the American ground war was supplied by a dozen soldiers and Army civilian employees of the 200th Material Management Center (MMC), 21st Theater Support Command (TSC).

From a vault in the basement of their headquarters near Kaiserslautern, Germany, they choreographed a corner-cutting, on-the-fly, I-want-it-now logistics operation that was as unconventional as the war being fought.

When Special Forces (SF) Soldiers called for western-style saddles, for example, they got them because somebody in the 200th MMC's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) cell happened to know the place in Germany to get them. When SF also requested an immediate shipment of 2,000 pounds of horse feed to accompany the saddles, they got it because somebody in the OEF cell happened to once own horses and contacted his old supplier. (Ultimately, 12,000 pounds of fodder was parachuted into Afghanistan to get the American teams through the winter.)

"Of course, we didn't know at the time why they needed western saddles or horse feed. Our job was just to get it," explained Maj. Ray Jensen, who headed the OEF cell. "Later, when we saw photographs of U.S. Soldiers making a charge on horseback, we said 'Oh, that's why.'"

During the first part of the Afghanistan campaign, the OEF cell was the sole supplier for U.S. military special operations teams and CIA special operating groups in Afghanistan, catering to every need and want made by military special operators or CIA agents in the field. They located and bought, for example, specialized batteries, nonmilitary tactical gear, civilian camping gear, mountaineering clothing and special food. Not only did most of the things requested not have a military nomenclature, much of the time nobody knew exactly what an item was until they started tracking it down.

"Luckily, we had a team that combined a lot of varied experience. Somebody always had a vague idea about what they wanted and where to get it. We always had a starting point," Maj. Jensen said.

By the time the conventional supply system took over, the OEF cell had bought and shipped nearly 2 million pounds of wheat and 93,000 blankets for humanitarian relief, along with the tons of equipment and supplies to keep the military operation going.

According to officials, the 21st TSC had been tasked by U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command to support Operation Enduring Freedom operations in Afghanistan because of its extensive capabilities and because it was the only forward-deployed logistics command that could support both of those unified commands. The 21st TSC's first mission started on October 1, 2001, and its subcommands operated continuously, 24 hours a day, through February 1, 2002, to support initial combat operations in Afghanistan.

To deliver the supplies to Afghanistan, the OEF cell also had to round up cargo parachutes because everything had to be air dropped, originating from bases in Germany. When the campaign began, there were only 200 cargo parachutes on hand in Germany. Within the first two weeks, it was estimated the supply operation would require 600 to 800 parachutes and need hundreds more to keep the operation going.

"The initial problem was that by the time the parachutes started shipping, Dover Air Force Base (the outgoing U.S. military air hub) was pretty much saturated," Maj. Jensen explained. "And we needed them fast."

The solution: the OEF cell had the parachutes delivered by FedEx to Germany.

Much was bought on the German economy or through the military commissary, using government credit cards. At one point, two of the OEF cell's purchasers each had nearly a $1 million balance on their cards and two others were carrying $500,000 balances. The system was Internet-based. Requests and discussions were carried out through e-mail with requesters using satellite phones.

"We had to do things that had never been done before. We couldn't follow standard doctrine. We had to be imaginative. We had to be flexible," Maj. Jensen said. "And it was totally a customer-driven focus. We knew the customers needed the stuff because we were in direct contact with the guys on the ground every day."

"In a lot of cases, it became, literally, a factory-to-foxhole operation," said Ellen Badstibner, a Department of the Army civilian logistics manager serving with the OEF cell. "It was the whole logistics system in microcosm."

"It wasn't easy," she added, "but at the end of the day every one of us could go home and really say I did something for Soldiers today. It was rewarding -- and inspiring -- because we could see the tangible results of what we were doing here."

"The news and the pictures made the war personal for us," Maj. Jensen added.

"Nobody here wanted to be the reason any mission failed."

As the conventional logistics system began to take over, the 200th MMC's OEF cell received a commendation from the CIA for its support. (The CIA gave permission to report the OEF cell's role in supporting its operations for this story, according to 21st TSC officials.)

> The biggest accolade, however, probably came from a high-ranking CIA officer who visited Afghanistan. As it was relayed to the OEF cell, the story goes that the officer arrived in the middle of nowhere, looked around and asked his agents, "How the heck did you get all this stuff?"