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I came across a reference in a history book to the Soviet 4th Cossack Cavalry Corps attacking and defeating Axis tanks during the Battle of Kushchevskaya. In the book this is presented as an "actual" cavalry charge, not just mounted infantry, with men on horseback carrying sabers attacking tanks and artillery "like an avalanche" and driving them from the field.

The book is "The Unwomanly Face of War", which is actually used as a reference in that Russian Wikipedia seven-phases-max referenced above. I've learned a lot about the battle from that link and some others, but I haven't found anything in English and I don't entirely trust google translate or else I would have written up an answer to it myself by now.

I'm curious because as far as I'm aware men on horseback charging against tanks and winning is unprecedented, but the book doesn't give any more details on the battle and I haven't been able to find any other references to the battle specifically or Cossack cavalry fighting tanks in general in English.

The date of the battle is not given, but in context occurred in late 1941 or later. The book also claims that the 4th Cossack Cavalry Corps was raised to the status of a Guards corps shortly afterward, which may help in dating it.

Did this battle actually happen as described? If so, were there any unmentioned factors that explain the outcome?

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  • If you liked such stories, I'd gather you will love the hilarious story of the Night Witches. – Denis de Bernardy May 14 '19 at 18:23
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    There's quite detailed wikipedia page in Russian. In short: there're controversial versions, but in summary it was not pure cavalry vs. tanks fight. Both sides actually had artillery, tanks, infantry and so on. – seven-phases-max May 14 '19 at 18:30
  • And the Molotov cocktail within close range of a tank was a deadly weapon. Not saying that it was used, but there are tactics in which tanks loose their superiority in battle. – Ajagar May 15 '19 at 21:36
  • @Ajagar Btw., some sources claim that the cavalry did destroy a few tanks in that fight with Molotov (the other sources doubt this though). Either way while the cossack rush was decisive, the key point about that particular fight is that their target were infantry and then artillery/mortar lines near the village, not tanks. – seven-phases-max May 15 '19 at 23:34
  • Keep in mind that while the popular image of German tanks is the big Tigers and Panthers, the reality was much more prosaic. In 1942 there would still be many 10 ton Panzer II light tanks. And any unsupported tank is vulnerable to infantry. Likely it was not a real cavalry charge of old, but dragoons; mounted infantry who fought dismounted and used horses as transport instead of trucks. – Schwern Nov 30 '20 at 20:08
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There are no reports from the 13th cavalry division, luckily however all is described quite well in reports of the 15th cavalry division. Further I translated most important parts of that report:

At 01:00 an order was received to be ready to attack Kuschevsky at sunrise in cooperation with 2 regiments of 13th cavalry division and a separate tank brigade (also called Maikop tank brigade sometimes) and 1 regiment of 12th cavalry division.

The forces arrived at around 06:00 02.08.1942. Before that, at 04:00 a company of enemy SMG-men (infantry) took Veseliy village.

In Kuschevsky there was an enemy 4th Mountain infantry division, reinforced with cavalry, artillery and tanks. (...)

The plan was as follows: 13th Cav. together with TBr (Tank Brigade) had to move to the left flank of the 25th cav. regiment (...) with tanks in front. (...)Infantry, mortars, artillery and tanks should provide as much fire support as they can to suppress the enemy, while the cavalry with tanks moves to the village Vesely. Simultaneously, the 15th cavalry division should begin their attack on Kushevskaya on foot.

From 06:00 till 10:00 13th Cav. was performing recon missions, to find targets for the artillery to suppress.

At 10:45 the attack began.

Tanks, supporting 13th Cav. were moving too slowly and were stopped, so 13th Cav. was forced to move on its own. 15th Cav. was hammered by a bomber. 25th cav. Regiment failed to install their artillery quickly enough to support the 13th cav. and fully suppress the enemy. Nevertheless, they did reach their objective and forced the enemy to retreat and take Vesely.

They lost 260 men during this assault.

15th cav. Took part of Kuschevskaya and the 25th cav regiment entered the city and continued the fight near the station. 42d cav regiment while approaching from the southeast engaged in a melee combat.

All these actions forced the enemy to retreat.

15th cav. lost 200 men.

Further assault was impossible because of poor actions of TBr. and lack of reserve (13th cav was the reserve, which was already in use). Because of impossibility to exploit their success and inability to quickly prepare defensive positions, they decided to retreat back to their previous positions.

Summing up the 13th cavalry division, with tanks in front and covered by fire from artillery of the 25th cavalry regiment performed a quick flanking manuver, unmounted and took the village Veseliy. At the same time the 15th cavalry division stormed Kuschevskaya on foot from the front. As a result they took Kuschevskaya but shortly after retreated, because did not have a proper force to defend the village. Both divisions in total lost 460 men.

So horses were used here to do a quick flanking maneuver to put the defenders of Kuschevskaya into danger of being surrounded inside the city, thus forcing them to retreat. Fighting was done on foot, as it was prescribed in the Red Army manuals. No one sane would charge onto a tank. So they would use horses solely for transport and unmount as soon as they engage serious force. Such small details however are not described in the report.

Note that tanks are in front and cavalry is behind. Tanks are faster than infantry and usually there is a problem, when tanks go too fast and arrive at location without infantry cover, where they are immobilized and destroyed by enemy anti tank teams. Cavalry in this case acts as a replacement to APCs (which the Red Army lacked) for the infantry to keep up with faster tanks. Charging tanks were never valid tactics at that time.

Original: report of the 15th Cavalry division (keeps opening on the wrong page for some reason, but it is there).

17th corps report.

Scheme of actions of 15th Cavalry division on: 01.08.1941, 02.08.1942, 03.08.1942

Note2: 4th corps was disbanded in 07.07.1940 so it did not take part in the Great Patriotic war.

P.S.: The "Unwomanly Face of War" is not a history book, but a fiction book.

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    This answer would be greatly enhanced by inclusion of 2 or 3 paragraphs from the report, translated even roughly into English, describing details of the mounted attack. The summary provided is good, but really needs solid backup. The key claim of this answer is that a mounted attack was carried home with effect - having the actual translation, and even the original Russian, in the text would be invaluable. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 27 '20 at 14:21
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    By "4th corps was disfigured in 07.07.1940" do you perhaps intend one of "4th corps was disbanded in 07.07.1940" or "4th corps was disguised in 07.07.1940" or "4th corps was hors du combat in 07.07.1940"? "Disfigured" is not a term used in English military jargon, so presumably is a bad translation from the Russian. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 27 '20 at 14:24
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    @PieterGeerkens This post by itself is a translated report of 15th cav. I omitted some small details, but generally it is close to the original report. – Zmur Nov 27 '20 at 14:27
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    Please use the line prefix "> " to clearly indicate both quotes and translations of quotes (with translator noted if known). An ellipsis ("...") is typically used in English to indicate where omission (elision) has been made from a quote. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 27 '20 at 14:27
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    @zmur - please move the comments into the text. One should never have to read the comments to understand the answer. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 27 '20 at 14:42

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