The mission of the Cavalry is to conduct reconnaissance, provide security, and perform economy of force operations.
As mentioned in a previous post, each heavy corps in Europe had its own Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). Let’s take a look at these formations.
Ordinarily in the history of the Army, regiments have been branch specific. That is, an infantry regiment was almost exclusively full of infantrymen. Similarly, a cavalry regiment was full of horse troopers.
But the Cold War ACR, ironically, was a combined arms formation, integrating scouts, armor and fire support all the way down to the troop level.1
Scout Platoon- The basic building block of a cavalry unit is the Scout Platoon. Each Scout Platoon consisted of six M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles (CFVs). The M3 was identical to the beloved M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle your humble scribe served on, except the internal arrangements provided for only two dismount personnel instead of seven, and allowed greater internal stowage for ammunition and TOW missiles. Each CFV had a crew of three and two dismount scouts.2 One Lieutenant and 29 enlisted soldiers formed the platoon.
Cavalry Troop- Here’s where the organization of Cavalry units began to get interesting. Each Cav troop had two scout platoons. But because troops would often operate well separated from one another, outside of mutual support, the troop needed a bit more firepower. So each troop also had a tank platoon. The four M1 tanks of the platoon were equipped an organized identically to any tank platoon in an armor unit. In addition, to provide some level of organic fire support, the Cav troop also had its own self propelled mortar section, with two M106 4.2” mortar carriers. The troop headquarters consisted of the CO mounted in a tank, the XO, supplied with an M3, and an M577 command post vehicle (based on the ubiquitous M113), a fire support section, a maintenance team, and the 1sg with the company supply trains. At a time when Infantry and Armor battalions only intermingled when task organized in the field, the Cav troop was a combined arms organization at all times, with Scouts, Armor, Infantry (via the mortar section), Field Artillery (via the FIST team) and logistics. A Cavalry troop might not have a lot of staying power, but it sure had a lot of punch.
Cavalry Squadron- Three Cavalry Troops formed the heart of a Cavalry squadron. In addition to a Headquarters and Headquarters Troop (HHT), the ACS also had an M1 tank company, further boosting the squadron’s firepower. And because squadrons might typically be widely separated, each squadron had its own eight gun battery of M109 155mm self-propelled artillery.
Regimental Aviation Squadron- As if the firepower of the three ground squadrons wasn’t enough, the Armored Cavalry Regiment also had its own Regimental Aviation Squadron or RAS. The RAS had three troops of Air Cavalry for reconnaissance (total 24 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors) and two Attack Helicopter Troops (total 16 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters). The RAS provided the ability to see deep into enemy territory, or to cover any gaps in a screen the regiment might be conducting. To provide the lift capability, the RAS also had an Assault Helicopter Troop with 15 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. In addition to hauling troops and supplies, the Blackhawks were often used by the Regiment and squadrons as Command and Control birds to allow commanders to physically visit subordinate units spread over wide areas, rather than spending many hours driving from point to point. Finally, the HHT was also home to four EH-60 helicopters providing SIGINT and jamming capability.
The Armored Cavalry Regiment- . The fifth squadron in the regiment was the Regimental Support Squadron, providing the logistical, maintenance, medical and administrative support similar to that which support battalions would provide to a division.
The ACR also had an organic Engineer company, Military Intelligence company, and an Air Defense Artillery Battery (with Stinger and Avenger ADA systems) to round out its combat power.
Finally, while not organic to the ACR, corps headquarters often tasked an entire Field Artillery brigade in direct support of the ACR, with each of the three battalions of 155mm guns supporting one Cavalry squadron. That is about three times the artillery support most infantry or armor battalion commanders could count upon.
The combined arms, and supporting services of the ACR has caused it to be described as a “pocket division” and indeed, it was a potent weapon. 5
Roles and Missions
As noted above, the role of the ACR was to provide the heavy corps commander with reconnaissance, security, and economy of force.
Reconnaissance -Reconnaissance is the means by which the commander gathers information on the enemy and the terrain upon which he will fight. In an era of UAVs and recon satellites, it may seem archaic to send scads of scouts out onto the battlefield to locate the enemy. But UAVs and satellites can be foiled by cloud cover, or deceived by a careful enemy. More importantly, just knowing where an enemy is doesn’t tell the commander what he needs to know. More than just where an enemy is, a commander needs to know divine his plans and intentions. Cavalry, by “fighting for information” can force an enemy to disclose his scheme of battle, his fire support plans, communications plan3 and more. By maintaining contact with enemy formations, cavalry mitigates any enemy attempts at deception operations. After all, it’s hard for the Guards 102nd Tank Division to pretend to be threatening in the north when they’re engaged in the south.
Cavalry reconnaissance also generates intelligence on the terrain the corps will fight upon. Are there trafficability issues in the corps area? Will the bridges and roads support the corps traffic? Will it support the enemy traffic?4 By knowing the terrain intimately, a good commander can make a fair estimate of likely positions an enemy will move to and routes to be used.
Security- No commander should allow the enemy to surprise him. Security operations both deny the enemy reconnaissance upon our forces, and provide our forces early warning of enemy movements and attacks.
The classic Cold War ACR screening mission was to cover the border between East and West Germany before a Warsaw Pact invasion of the NATO countries. Covering the front of a corps, the ACR would first detect enemy movements across the border. The ACR would avoid becoming decisively engaged. That is, it was of prime importance for the regiment to not get pinned down. When the pressure became too great, they would fall back, either to another line of positions, or through the lines of the main body of the corps, the heavy divisions, handing off the fight to them. But before the regiment slipped away, it would want to destroy the Soviet reconnaissance effort, and if possible, the advance guard of the main body of the invasion. Beyond the salutary effects of attriting the enemy, this counter recon battle also deprives the enemy of intelligence on our main body’s dispositions and plans. If the ACR is successful in this fight, it can seriously slow the enemy advance, sow confusion on the ranks, and generate opportunities to seize the initiative. A further objective during this covering force battle is to determine where the enemy main effort. This allows the defending corps to allocate resources where they will do the most good.
The regiment can also often be found guarding the flanks of the corps during movement, to protect against any flanking attacks from the enemy.
Economy of Force- Economy of Force is simply using the least resources needed to perform a mission. The ACR isn’t a Heavy Brigade, nor yet an armored division, and shouldn’t be used like one. But let us suppose our corps commander is attacking a dug in enemy tank division. His mechanized infantry division has engaged the front of the enemy division to fix him in place, while his armored division has begun to sweep around a flank to deliver the coup de grace. To keep the neighboring enemy division from counterattacking, he needs to stage a secondary attack on it. Rather than deploying his independent brigade, he may choose to hold that in reserve to exploit any successes, and instead task the ACR to fix the second enemy division in place. While the primary roles of the ACR are recon and security, it can attack, defend, and cover a retreat.
The Past and the Present
Desert Storm- When the ground war phase of Desert Storm kicked off on 24 February, 1991, the invasion of Kuwait was led by the Marines, coalition partners, and some US Army elements. The far left flak of the coalition was guarded by the XVIIIth Airborne Corps (in a kind of giant cavalry mission, forming a screen, as well as blocking Iraqi lines of retreat). The main effort, though, was the 5 heavy divisions of the VIIth Corps. And in the lead was the corps Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 2nd ACR. In deplorable weather, the 2ACR lead the way, showing the corps path was clear. And when the corps finally came to grips with the Republican Guard, it was 2ACR that first encountered them. Probably the most famous engagement of Desert Storm was the fight of (then) Captain Harold McMaster’s Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd ACR at the Battle of 73 Easting. This company sized element ran headlong into the tanks and armored personnel carriers of a Republican Guard division, and seized the initiative, and in an incredible fight, tore the heart out of the Iraqi formation.
Present Day- While there are still formations in the Army named Armored Cavalry Regiments, they are really ACRs in name only. The 2ACR and 3rd ACR today are Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, and the 11th ACR, when not deployed to Iraq as a Heavy Brigade Combat Team, serves as the Opposing Force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.
While the Armored Cavalry Regiment may be no more, Cavalry is far from dead. We’ll take a look at todays cavalry squadrons in a later post.
1. Cavalry formations substitute the term “troop” for “company,” and “squadron” for “battalion.” Similarly, a “battery” is a company sized element in the artillery branches.
2. Well, two dismount scouts in a perfect world. Very few units ever had all the personnel they were supposed to have. If a Scout Platoon has fewer people than it was authorized, the CFVs would be fully crewed first, then the platoon would field as many two man teams as it could. These dismounted scouts could provide immediate local security to the scout platoon, or they could conduct a more stealthy reconnaissance than a 30 ton Bradley. What they couldn’t really do was fight as infantry. The platoon lacked sufficient numbers of dismounted scouts to do so.
3. By forcing the enemy to communicate, intelligence at either the ACR or higher levels can gather information on the enemy commo plan, and even likely determine locations of command posts, artillery support, and other assets.
4. If you know key chokepoints where the enemy will have little room to maneuver, you can more successfully employ obstacles, artillery and close air support, and attacks by maneuver elements. For instance, if an enemy division only has one likely crossing point of a river, you can wait until the last moment, and blow up the bridge in his face. While his troops are massed at the crossing point, waiting for assault bridging elements to arrive, they make a dandy target for supporting fires, while protecting your force from a flanking attack.
5. Ironically, the “forward deployed” brigades in Europe (which were really separate brigades) were commanded by Brigadier Generals, but the larger, more complex ACR was a Colonel’s command. A successful command tour was almost sure to guarantee promotion to at least Brigadier General, and if you look at the four star Generals that came from an Armor/Cavalry background, most had a tour as an ACR commander. One of the reasons much of the Army was stunned when (then) COL H. R. McMaster was first passed over for BG was that he’d had a very successful tour as commander of the 11th ACR, the traditional path to the stars, in combat in Iraq no less!
A final note- Cavalry Scout is a specific Military Occupational Specialty in the Army, 19D to be precise. But officers in the Armor career field can be assigned to either Cavalry or Armor formations. And there are any number of formations that carry the battle honors and traditions of Cavalry units. Try telling any of the aviators in the RAS they weren’t Cavalrymen and they’ll let you know just how wrong you are. For a lot of folks, Cavalry is a state of mind more than anything else.
Update: Commenters have notice a few errors on my part. Guilty. I was a tad surprised that I couldn’t easily find the doctrinal pubs covering the ACR during the late 80/early 90s, and instead had to use a mid 1990s version. Having said that, FM17-95 Cavalry Operations, DEC 1996, is a very interesting manual, showing a blend of the previous AirLand Battle Doctrine, and the evolving post Desert Storm Doctrine that would continue to evolve up to the War on Terror. It goes into great detail on planning, combat support, and service support, and most of the concepts it discusses can be extrapolated to give insight into how the larger army viewed those operations. Armchair generals may be interested in reading it.