SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry
The invasion of Poland by the blitzing German panzers in 1939 accelerated the movement to mechanize American forces and led to the first extensive mechanized maneuvers in 1940. By 1941, the Second Calvary was participating in similar large-scale maneuvers in Louisiana. The headquarters for the Louisiana Maneuvers were in the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria, Louisiana. In January 1942, the Second Cavalry served a period on border duty at Tucson, Arizona.
Since the emphasis in the Army was shifting to armor, the Regiment, still a horse outfit, returned to Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, for refitting. It was there on 15 May 1942 that it was redesignated and refitted to form the Second Armored Regiment of the Ninth Armored Division. It was this outfit that spawned specific armored units composed initially of men and equipment from the Second Cavalry. These units, the Second Tank Battalion, the 19th Tank Battalion and the 776th Tank Battalion, would distinguish themselves in combat through the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation.
In June 1943, the Regiment was renamed the Second Cavalry Group, Mechanized. Colonel Charles Hancock Reed became the 31st Colonel of the Regiment. In December the Regiment was again reorganized, its elements being Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Second Cavalry Group, Mechanized, and the Second and 42nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadrons, Mechanized.
Elements of the Regiment landed in Normandy in July 1944 and immediately distinguished themselves as part of General Patton’s Third Army. The Regiment performed such daring reconnaissance missions that it became known to the German High Command as the “Ghosts of Patton’s Army”, seemingly materializing at different points behind the German lines.
On 17 September 1944, German Army Group “G” was preparing to make a major armored effort against the Nancy salient to stabilize the line along the forts of Belfort, Epinal, Nancy, and Metz. Prominent armored units among the enemy Army Group included the 2nd, and 11th Panzer Divisions, and elements of the 16th Panzer Division, the 130th Panzer Lehr Division, and the 111th Panzer Brigade. This armored force, though under strength, was still a formidable enemy. Holding the point of the Nancy salient was the Second Cavalry. What the first scouts reported as “six Tiger tanks with infantry support” became a major clash that sent the Regiment reeling. It became apparent that the Regiment was bearing the brunt of the 5th Panzer Army’s attack.
As a result of the accurate and timely reporting of the Regiment and the valuable time gained by its vigorous delaying action, the German attack ground to a halt far short of its objective. The key city of Luneville remained secure and under the control of the Second Cavalry Regiment. The Germans suffered irreparable damage in the battle and were unable to mount another offensive until the Ardennes campaign three months later.
While Patton’s Third Army was poised to continue offensive operations to the east into Germany, Hitler’s war machine had secretly assembled a large force of kids and school teachers (Malitia) for what would become Germany’s last counter-offensive in the West. The Germans massed 25 divisions in a thinly manned, “quiet sector” along the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg. Before daylight on 16 December 1944, the Germans attacked along a 60-mile front. The American units in this sector were either full of inexperienced soldiers or depleted from earlier combat. All were stretched thin.
The German offensive gained ground quickly and a “bulge” within the American lines formed. This characteristic gave the combat its name, “The Battle of the Bulge”. Though cut off and surrounded, many small units continued to fight. These pockets of resistance seriously disrupted the German timetable and bought precious time for the American and British forces to reinforce the area to stop the penetration. Many of these actions were conducted by the Second and 19th Armored Battalions of the Ninth Armored Division, which trace their lineage to the Second Cavalry. The Second Tank Battalion would earn the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic efforts in the early part of the battle. The Fourth Infantry Division holding the southern shoulder of the bulge, bent but did not break. This would be key to the successful operations of the Third Army as they moved to relieve the beleaguered forces in the bulge and the surrounded town of Bastogne.
The Third Army was oriented east as they prepared to move north to hit the penetration and drive through to Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne Division. After breaking contact with the enemy, the Regiment screened the movement of the Third Army as General Patton made good on his promise to have his army redirected and in the new battle within 48 hours. This rapid shift and change of direction of attack from the east to the north was one of the most noteworthy instances during the war of the successful employment of the principle of maneuver.
The Second Cavalry Group moved into positions along the southern shoulder of the Bulge, relieving those elements of the Fourth Infantry Division holding onto this key terrain. Elements of the Third Army drove through the German formations to reach the encircled forces at Bastogne. The 37th Tank Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams, officially relieved the 101st on 26 December 1944. Abrams later became the 38th Colonel of the [2d Armored Cavalry] Regiment.
Colonel Reed led the Regiment in the deepest American penetration of the war, all the way into Czechoslovakia. Under Colonel Reed’s leadership, the Second Dragoons rescued the world famous Lipizzaner stallions in a daring raid through German lines to an area that was to be the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Colonel Reed defied Soviet threats and herded the Lipizzaners safely back to Germany. In 1960, Walt Disney Productions released a full-length (though historically flawed) motion picture entitled “The Miracle of the White Stallions” that captured the drama of these events.
As significant as this raid has become to all the horse lovers of the world, the real reason for the raid may have been to capture key intelligence from a senior officer of the German intelligence service. Concurrently, a force from the Second Dragoons moved to a POW camp nearby to rescue American and Allied prisoners. Not only was the rescue of the Lipizzaners a success, but the Regiment also secured the surrender of the 11th Panzer Division. This ended the wartime relationship between the 11th Panzers and the Second Dragoons and began the peacetime relationship that continues to this day.
On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered. The Second Cavalry had driven well into Czechoslovakia when orders came to occupy a restraining line. The objective had been the capture of Prague, but for political reasons the Soviets were to capture the city. The Russians also had orders to take Pilsen, which was already in American hands. Even though the Soviets knew the American disposition, they were determined to continue their march on Pilsen.
On 11 May 1945, Soviet Major General Fomenich of the 35th Tank Brigade told Colonel Reed to move the Second Cavalry aside – his forces were moving forward. Colonel Reed, then under orders to hold his present line, told the Soviet commander, “If you go forward, remember, our guns are still loaded.” Fomenich gave no response. That night, the Regiment received a message from Corps to begin movement back to the U.S. zone, and the Second Cavalry eventually left Czechoslovakia on 14 May without incident. Colonel Reed exemplified the cavalryman’s will and determination in this prelude to the Cold War.
Not only did the Regiment participate in the European Theater, but elements of the Regiment, designated as the 776th Amphibious Tank Battalion, also took part in amphibious operations throughout the Pacific. These elements earned a Philippine Presidential Citation and battle streamers in Leyte and the Ryukyus campaigns for island-hopping and jungle warfare efforts. This unit, an amphibious reconnaissance force equipped with 75mm pack howitzers, mounted on amphibious tracked vehicles (AMTRAC’s) often spearheaded the landings of the Seventh Infantry Division. Once ashore, their guns were used for close artillery support to the vanguard elements of the division.
In all, the Regiment earned five brown campaign streamers for actions in Europe and two yellow streamers for battles in the islands of the Pacific. The Presidential Unit Citation for Bastogne is represented by a blue embroidered streamer.