Which was the last major war in which horses were used for frequent fighting?

Why were these horses used, and about how many were there?

This is not a duplicate of the question (When was the last cavalry charge?) ; I simply would like more information about this somewhat muddled topic.

  • 11
    How do you define "major war"?
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 9:02
  • 3
    Insurgents and special forces probably still use horses in some remote areas..... MGS The phantom pain was the bomb! Depends if you call the 'War' on Terror a major 'War'. Probably not. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 15:59
  • This would be a great question for a new SE forum called Militaria. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/99463/militaria
    – RichS
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:08

6 Answers 6


One thing that is important to consider is the difference between cavalry and dragoons - cavalry fight on horseback, whereas dragoons are infantry who use horses to get around and then fight on foot like other infantry. It's worth noting that both the Chinese and Indian armies still employ dragoon-like units today, who may well be used in low-intensity conflicts.

Of course, not only does the question need a definition of cavalry but also of major war - the Afghan civil war certainly seemed to include mounted troops.

Taking only traditional cavalry and really major wars however, the answer would be World War II where the US, Soviet and Polish armies all employed cavalry, with varying degrees of success.

So depending on exactly how you define the question, the answer could well be 75 years ago, or still ongoing and the last fight hasn't happened yet!

  • 2
    I know the Chinese military had active horse-mounted cavalry units in the 1970s; my gut was telling me that they might have been employed in the Sino-Vietnamese war, but unfortunately a brief search didn't turn up any solid references. Cavalry was certainly still a part of Chinese tactics in the 1960s; lots of mounted infantry (some with horse-sized NBC suits) is shown doing maneuvers nearby in the film of the first Chinese atomic bomb test.
    – MattyZ
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 18:47
  • According to wikipedia the US special forces used horses in Afghanistan in 2001.
    – user15620
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 17:23

During World War II, the USSR used nearly 200,000 horses in active cavalry fighting.

The Russians' retention of large units of cavalry long after this ancient arm had been abandoned by other major armies gave the planners and the Red Army greater flexibility in operations over difficult terrain, and particularly in severe weather. Horses could operate in mud, marshland, and in any sort of broken ground; they could filter through forests and negotiate watercourses and ravines that would halt motorized units.

The horses could survive at 22 degrees below zero ad keep moving in dust and sand that clogged and wore out engines. Cavalrymen could fight as infantry after covering immense distances, and, like the motorized infantry, they could exploit breakthroughs punched by tanks.

In attack and defense their capability for concealment and rapid dispersal could catch an enemy off guard or force him to move with caution. When operating over broad fronts, the abler Soviet commanders advanced their tanks and infantry over main roads and used the cavalry to cover the higher and more difficult terrain in between.

The Red Army's planners provided for expanding this arm, and by 1942 they were working towards 400,000 mounted cavalrymen organized into nearly 60 divisions.

  • 2
    other armies persisted with cavalry units to, though well short of Soviet numbers. germans deployed some cavalry units throughout the war and much logistical hauling and artillery was done by horses in the German army., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horses_in_World_War_II#Cavalry_troops
    – pugsville
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 5:09
  • 12
    But were these horses used in active fighting? It sounds like the Russian troops fought as dragoons (using horses to get from A to B, but then dismount to do the actual fighting).
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 10:01
  • @Philipp See Kuschevskaya attack. But that was rather an exception. Normally they fought "dragoon"-like, of course.
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 10:35
  • I thought that the machine gun made horse cavalry units obsolete. In what tactical situations could horse cavalry units be effective against modern armies? Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 13:55

My answer is the second world war as well, but in addition to the European front calvary was used by the US in the far east. The US 26th Calvary Regiment actively engaged (charged) the Japanese during the first battle for the Philippines. This charge was taught to us in school as the last cavalry charge (I am thinking the last US cavalry charge, but I could be wrong.)

"The 26th Cavalry Regiment, consisting mostly of Philippine Scouts, was the last U.S. cavalry regiment to engage in horse-mounted warfare. When Troop G encountered Japanese forces at the village of Morong on 16 January 1942, Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey ordered the last cavalry charge in American history"

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Ramsey: Soldier who led the last cavalry charge by the US army

In Kansas: Echoing Hoofbeats

26th Cavalry Regiment (Wikipedia)

As the Japanese Imperial Army landed thousands of soldiers near Manila Bay in January 1942, the 26th Cavalry was ordered into the fray to delay the enemy's advance. Ramsey, then a lieutenant, led 27 riders to the strategic coastal village of Morong.

The village was still as Ramsey entered, but a Japanese advance guard soon shattered the silence with guns blazing. When Ramsey spied hundreds more Japanese troops wading across a river toward him, he knew his men had only one hope for survival. He raised his pistol and, like a long line of cavalrymen since Custer's time, hollered, "Charge!"

WWII cavalry officer in the Philippines

Update: while researching this i found this interesting article that details several cavalry operations that happened in the later stages of WWII in Europe, including a story I had never heard about of a US cavalry detachment of the 10th Mountain where they engaged the Germans in Italy in April of 1945.

The Last Cavalry Charge in History?

  • 3
    While all this was going on, the Japanese of course used bicycles. They effectively conquered the Malayan jungle and opened up the route into Singapore with bicycle troops. Every soldier was a complete fighting unit, each carrying his own supplies.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 20:25
  • The whole Malaysian campaign is fascinating indeed.
    – ed.hank
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 15:03
  • 1
    The book to read is Spencer Chapman's The Jungle is Neutral. Chapman was a British officer who volunteered to stay behind after the occupation and work with the resistance. He describes succinctly what jungle warfare was all about.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 1:24
  • I just ordered it on Amazon! If you have any other good ones lemme know and I will order them too. Thanks!
    – ed.hank
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 13:31
  • 1
    The thing that you will discover Chapman explains well, is why a modern army finds it immensely difficult to prevail against insurgents in a jungle environment. The architects of US policy in Viet Nam would have done well to read Chapman before they invested so much in it. The British overcame the Communist insurgency in Malaya (1948-1960) mainly by using Gurkha soldiers - brilliant jungle warriors. Also by infiltrating the communist network, mostly peopled by the same officers they had had experience working with against the Japanese.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:28

Consider Rhodesian civil war, 1976-1980.

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  • Where did you get these photos? Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 1:26

This is a partial answer as I don't have full evidence to support it, but I suspect that the Chinese may have employed mounted infantry in wartime as late as the 1970s.

From page 15 of China's War Against Vietnam, 1979: A Military Analysis:

Advancing rapidly at the outset, the Chinese forces soon met with difficulties. The rugged terrain of the mountainous border area was substantially unfavorable to the movement of division-sized forces, trucks, and other motor vehicles. The Chinese, lacking modern logistics equipment and being refrained from using air transportation, were forced to rely on old trucks, horses, donkeys, and laborers for logistics.

I will claim that it's plausible the Chinese used mounted infantry in combat during this conflict, simply because it's a matter of record that they had the units available in their armed forces for use (with soldiers were trained to fire weapons from the saddle, not just use them for mobility in the fashion of dragoons), the difficult terrain could've made their use advantageous for the same reasons as in say Afghanistan, and as donkeys and horses were already being used as beasts of burden for logistics purposes, they obviously had the "meta-logistics" required to feed and care for animals set up for the war.

If I can find any solid references to support the claim, I will append this answer; it's a bit difficult as while there were nearly 60,000 soldiers KIA during about a month of fighting, which certainly fits my definition of a "major war", it's a bit of a "forgotten conflict" and there don't seem to be a huge number of primary sources to draw from (in the English language, at least.)

  • 1
    Going off your idea I found a source talking about Chinese-Tibet war and the use of cavalry on both sides in the early 60's. - Asia's Unknown Uprisings: People power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet ... By George N. Katsiaficas
    – ed.hank
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 0:51

It would appear that the Chinese used mounted cavalry in the Korean conflict in 1952.

In Burke Davis's Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller, the author quotes Puller, describing action near the 38th Parallel:

"Puller witnessed some bad moments for the First Cavalry while he was on the line: 'One night they were overrun by Chinese horse cavalry. They had dug in tanks to use as guns, and after dark the Chinese came in, galloping fast, and overran them. The First Cavalry broke, and the Chinese sabered them, hundreds of them, from horseback.'"

This book does not include explicit citations, but this appears to be a direct quote from Gen. Puller describing his experience in Korea.

  • It would therefore appear that the US also had a cavalry unit there, at least in name.
    – user207421
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 2:22
  • @EJP The 1st Calvary Division lost it's last mounted units during World War II, and most of its horses before the war. It appears to have been essentially an infantry division during the Korean war. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 3:44