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Sabers through the Reich: World War II Corps Cavalry from Normandy to the Elbe, by William Stuart Nance

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. Pp. xii, 354. Illus., maps, diagr., notes, index. $50.00. ISBN: 0813169607.

American Mech Cavalry Against the Wehrmacht

An armor officer with a doctorate in history, Nance throws fresh light on a very neglected branch of the U.S. Army in World War II, the cavalry, which of course fought the war as a light armored force. He opens with a review of the history of mounted troops in the Army, which did not establish a permanent mounted arm until 1833. Nance briefly covers cavalry operations through the First World War, before looking at the transition from horses to motors in the 1920s and 1930s, a process that had not actually been completed when the U.S. entered World War II; indeed, some horsed cavalrymen actually got overseas, to North Africa and the Pacific, but were soon converted to infantry or artillery.

In this discussion Nance makes the important point that the traditionalists who supposed opposed any thought of motorization were perhaps not so hidebound as is often depicted, given that took a while for the technology to fulfill the promises of the motorization enthusiasts.

Nance then covers American mech cavalry operations from the Normandy beachhead through the fall of the Reich. In many ways the mechanized cavalry fulfilled the missions that had once been the role of the horsed cavalry. Not only did the cavalry seek out the enemy or cover retirements, but it also shielded the flanks of friendly units moving deep into hostile territory. Most notably, despite the neat lines drawn on maps that suggest firmly held lines, during the Third Army’s dash across France in the late summer of 1944, there were broad swathes of the front that were only lightly covered by small numbers of very active troopers, mostly from the 3rd Cavalry Group, the old Mounted Rifles. On other occasions, mech cavalry units managed to hold off greatly superior German forces for impressive periods, such as the protracted defense of the 14th Cavalry Group during the Battle of the Bulge.

Despite an uncertain doctrine and inadequate equipment, the cavalry proved quite effective. Despite its excellent work, Nance notes, the cavalry has only rarely found mention in most accounts of operations in northwestern Europe.

Sabers Through the Reich, a volume in the Kentucky “Battles and Campaigns Series”, is a very valuable addition to the literature on the war in Europe, not to mention the history of the cavalry.

Note: Sabers Through the Reich is also available as an e-pub, ISBN 978-0-8131-6962-0, and in pdf, 978-0-8131-6961-3.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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