Cavalry corps (Soviet Union)

The cavalry corps (Russian: кавалерийский корпус) of the Workers and Peasant Red Army was a type of military formation that existed from the early days of the Russian Civil War until 1947 when the Red Army was renamed as the Soviet Army and all cavalry corps were disbanded.

Members of the Kremlin Regiment on horseback dressed in the uniforms of the cavalry corps.

Organization of the CorpsEdit

The cavalry corps represented the foundation of large mobile formations in the Red Army, and most were converted to mechanized and motorized corps during the 1930s. However, due to severe losses in vehicles by the Red Army following the German invasion of USSR many more cavalry corps were raised. The Soviet Cavalry Corps was the largest of the cavalry units and was equal to an army on the battlefield, however during major operations cavalry groups such as Dovator and Belov were established. During the Second World War the cavalry corps were used primarily as components of the Cavalry Mechanized Groups that were inserted into the breakthrough sector of the Front following an offensive, paired with either a tank corps or a mechanized corps, providing additional mobile infantry component that could escort tanks and support them against enemy anti-tank defenses. Sometimes dismounted cavalrymen were used as tank desant to ensure closer cooperation between tanks and cavalry.

These corps initially included two cavalry divisions, two self-propelled artillery regiments, and a signals battalion and a tank battalion of 31 tanks. These light cavalry divisions were 3,447 me, 3,890 horses, eight 76.2mm guns twelve, 72.6mm howitzers, eight 45mm anti-tank guns, eight 120mm mortars, forty-eight 50mm mortars, nine12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns, forty-eight heavy machine guns, 113 light machineguns. Medium tanks were often replaced with light tanks, tankllets, or armoured cars. This new smaller division considerably accelerated mobilization and proved easier to command for the great mass of inexperienced officers.

In June 1941, each Soviet Cavalry Corps consisted of 18,000 men, 15,552 horses, 124 tanks, 44 armored cars, 64 artillery 32 antitank guns, and 40 anti-aircraft guns. Each Cavalry Division was made of 3,000 men. Additionally having 128 tanks 36 armored cars, 64 artillery guns and AA guns over 76mm, 32 anti-aircraft, 120 mortars, and 430 light medium or heavy MGs. Each Cavalry Regiment had 32 heavy machine guns, 8 anti-tank guns, and 8 artillery pieces.[1]

Between July and December 1941, the cavalry arm expended from thirteen to eighty-two divisions. On paper the were authorized 128 sub machine-guns; however, like Pavel Belov 1st Guards cavalry Corps, most of the cavalry was primarily armed with rifles prior to the Moscow counteroffensive in December 1941.[2] In 1943 the cavalry was expanded into cavalry-mechanize groups with additional cavalry division being added, thus bringing the regular division to 6000. Additionally, all divisions received a tank regiment with its own airforce unit.

Red Army cavalry organization differs considerably from the organization of US cavalry units. Numerically, Red Army units are the smaller. A Soviet cavalry corps is roughly equal numerically to a reinforced US horse cavalry division. Within the Red Army cavalry corps, also, are from two to four tank regiments as organic elements of the corps. The U.S.S.R. cavalry regiment is so designed as to provide a small and mobile striking force, heavily reinforced by supporting weapons. Numerically equal to less than half a Red Army infantry regiment, the U.S.S.R. cavalry regiment has almost as much firepower in supporting weapons.[3]

Operational HistoryEdit

While the Soviet cavalry was the most combat-ready arm of the Soviet ground forces, its tanks and trucks were in a deplorable state of operational readiness.[4] Early in the war, tank and paratrooper units were put under the cavalry command during the most difficult situations. This demonstrates the significant role of the cavalry on the frontline as it was the most mobile force available during 1941–43. It is also important to note that; the cavalry almost always fought understrength of 3000 men at full strength for a division, while often being thrown into the hardest parts of the battle. A full-strength cavalry Corps of 18,000 men had to do the same output as an army of 60,000-100,000 men on the given task. Some legendary cavalry units often surpassed those expectations given to them by STAVKA as most famously Pavel Belov and Lev Dovator and later in their place Issa Pliyev and Viktor Kirillovich Baranov performed with most proficiency at all tasks never being surrounded or destroyed throughout the war.

The cavalry operated successfully during the whole war, particularly during the difficult early stages of the war. The speed of the German advance often spread out the units thinly, allowing Soviet cavalry formations to launch raids into its enemy's rear. At dawn on August 28, 1941, Col. Lev Dovator led a cavalry group of three thousand sabers (accompanied by medium and light machine guns but no artillery or armor) in a mounted attack which, broke through the 450th German Infantry Regiment. Over the next two days, Dovator's command inflicted some twenty-five hundred casualties on the Germans; they overran two regimental headquarters and the topographical department of the Sixth Army; they destroyed two hundred motor vehicles, two tanks, four armored cars, four artillery pieces, and six mortars; and they captured fifteen hundred rifles and automatic weapons, which were used to arm a partisan detachment left behind the German lines.[5]

Despite the name, for the most part, the troops of the cavalry corps operated primarily as dismounted infantry. Soviet cavalry doctrine emphasized that cavalry should dismount to fight unless specific circumstances existed to attack mounted. Mounted attacks were called for when the enemy was weak and his defense unorganized. The enemy must be unaware of the cavalry's presence and the terrain must favor its approach.[6] After the enemies retreated they were able to pursue the enemy on horses along with tanks resulting in great enemy losses. Their horses were the only units able to negotiate terrain that would prove difficult to motor vehicles, while at the same time being able to conduct rapid raids into the rear of the enemy positions. Often fighting along with other penetrating or later shock units, this was often done in the most crucial parts of the battlefield. During Battle of Moscow, the center Dovator was held and pushed back by many Soviet cavalry units including Lev Dovator who was KIA, along with Pavel Belov who helped lead and destroy Guderian army group enveloping southern Moscow helping the almost encircled 50th Army in Tula. Later during the crucial encirclement of the Battle of Stalingrad, the cavalry units with their mobility were the first to close the circle. These heroic actions were done often throughout the war resulting in another stunning achievement for the cavalry as they were the first to fully encircle Berlin.

During the Battle for Moscow the 1st Guards Cavalry Corps along with other cavalry units played a key role in stopping the Germans from conquering the capital. Total cavalry numbered roughly 50,000 in the battle of which some consisted of Cossacks. These elite troops achieved great success from their advantage in cavalry, superior physicality, bravery, and mental strength made up for their small numbers. Cavalry were constantly on the move to disrupt lines with little sleep, as they fought by day and moved and raided at night. As was demonstrated during the 1941-42 Moscow counter-offensive, rifle units penetrated enemy lines, which were then successfully exploited by cavalry, supported by tanks. These mobile formations effectively disrupted the German rear, allowing Soviet riflemen to push back German lines. This cavalry tank tactic created a higher operational tempo, making it difficult for the Germans to re-establish a defensive line.[7] These tactics were most famously applied by Lev Dovator who fell during the counteroffensive in the Battle of Moscow. Additionally Pavel Belov demonstrated this art of war successfully against Guderian's 2nd Panzer Group in the south part of the city, which later resulted in his famous 5-month raid behind the German 9th Army. Belov attacked the headquarters on a few occasions, while slipping away every time. This got the attention of Franz Halder who later had 7 German divisions on the pursue, this was over 100,000 men resulting in one of the greatest chases in world history earning him the nickname the Fox.

More significantly, the raid so unnerved the German high command that it slowed its advance in that sector, withdrawing units from the frontline. Aircraft, armor, and motorized infantry all failed to intercept Dovator as he weaved across the country and passed safely back through the lines. By late summer, a number of new cavalry formations had been established, and the Soviet army would eventually field eight full cavalry corps. The contributions of Belov and Dovator in slowing down the Nazi advance were recognized, and they were given command, respectively, of the 1st and 2nd Guards Cavalry Corps.[8]

In the Battle for Stalingrad, three cavalry corps, the 8th (including the 21st, 55th, and 112th cavalry divisions), the 3rd Guards (including the 5th and 6th Guards and 32nd cavalry divisions) and the 4th Cavalry Corps (61st and 81st cavalry divisions) participated in the counter-offensive. These varied in strength between 22,500 and 10,200 personnel and had from 18,000 to 9,000 horses.

Between April 1942 and July 1942, the Red Army, suffering a shortage of horses, disbanded 41 cavalry divisions. The lack of horses was the deciding factor in the reduction in the cavalry units.[9] Soviet cavalry was incorporated into a Cavalry Mechanized Group, which was very well equipped to perform shock attacks able to penetrate and pursue the enemy. It remained an important factor in later stages of the war. For instance, Operation Bagration might have not been as successful if it wasn't for mechanized cavalry units using deep battle penetration to keep up with the tanks upon breakthrough. Until the end of the war, the Soviet cavalry remained to be respected and feared by its enemies. In the final months, it demonstrated once more how effective cavalry could be in a modern age when applied properly, as they successfully encircled Berlin and later were instrumental in the Japanese in 1945 during the Battle of Manchuria, cementing their legacy as one of the finest units of the war.

Corps and time of formationEdit

Disbandment dates are from Bonn, Slaughterhouse.

In connection with the great vulnerability of cavalry from artillery fire, air strikes and tanks, the number of cavalry corps was reduced to 8 on 1 September 1943.

Guards Cavalry Corps (Gv.kk)Edit

In the second half of the 20th century the cavalry corps in the Soviet Army disbanded, the last cavalry division in 1955.

Cavalry GroupsEdit


At the beginning of the war, Red Army cavalry corps had 2–3 cavalry (or mountain cavalry) divisions in each. In the corps was:

  • Personnel
    • More than 19,000 soldiers
  • Horse
    • 16,000 horses
  • Basic weapons and equipment

During the war the battle of the cavalry corps has been significantly strengthened, it began to enter:

  • 3rd Cavalry Division
  • Self-propelled artillery, anti-tank artillery and anti-aircraft artillery regiments
  • Guards Mortar Regiment Rocket artillery
  • Mortar and separate anti-tank battalions.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ John S Harrel
  2. ^ *Harrel, John (2019). Soviet Cavalry Operations During The Second World War: The Genesis Of The Operational Manoeuvre Group. Pen & Sword Military.
  3. ^ Article on the use of cavalry by the Red Army
  4. ^ John S Harrel
  5. ^ Gervase Phillips
  6. ^ John S Harrel
  7. ^ John S Harrel
  8. ^ Gervase Phillips
  9. ^ Walter Scott Dunn, The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930-1945, p.234
  10. ^ "Боевой состав Советской Армии на 1 мая 1943 г." Combat composition of the Soviet Army. Retrieved 2017-06-22.CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ Keith E. Bonn, Slaughterhouse, 2005, p.347

Further readingEdit

  • Bonn, Slaughterhouse: The Handbook of the Eastern Front, Aberjona Press, 2005

  • Harrel, John (2019). Soviet Cavalry Operations During The Second World War: The Genesis Of The Operational Manoeuvre Group. Pen & Sword Military.
  • Gervase Phillips (2007). Red Sabers: J. E. B. Stuart, Soviet Cavalry Guru: HistoryNet

External linksEdit