The German Cavalry Of World War 2


German cavalry firing from horseback, 1935.
German cavalry firing from horseback, 1935.

Whilst the German war machine in World War 2 was shown to be incredibly effective through mobile mechanised forces using methods like the Blitzkrieg, the German army still relied on horsepower.

Despite the failures of cavalry in WW1 vast amount of time was spent by riders before 1935 on honing the skill of horsemanship, this was even taught at SS academies because of it being considered part of the legacy of the Teutonic Knights. This lay excellent groundwork for the use of these forces as a capable unit in warfare, primarily intended for reconnaissance. Arguably, their most notable achievement came in the 1936 Olympics where the Germans won 6 equestrian gold medals.

This emphasis may have come through the restrictions placed on the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles in being allowed three cavalry divisions where vehicles were under strict control. Vehicles however were slowly implemented into these regiments such as motorbikes with some horse regiments serving as motorised rifle troops.

Every horse mounted solider carried a sabre and by 1939 each officer would carry a sub-machine gun with regulars carrying a modified carbine. The 1st Cavalry Division found some success in the campaign in Poland and would go on to fight in France and Holland however during the Russian Campaign these units were deployed under different command leading to the specialised horses being used to aid the ever weakened supply chain. After suffering heavily on the eastern front this Division would go on to form the 24th Panzer Division on the 5th November 1941. A division that would be destroyed in the battle for Stalingrad, only to be reformed in late 1943 until finally surrendering to Soviet forces in May of 1945.

Whilst the advancements of warfare had made horses somewhat obsolete in many circumstances it’s use as a form of transportation for troops, supplies and as a mobile combat unit meant this animal had not yet escaped the depravity of human affairs. By the end of the war, out of the 2.7 million horses and mules used by the Germans an estimated 750,000 died.