The Last Charge

From Packs On Memoirs of the 10th Mountain Division in WW2 by A. B. Feuer. Pages 39 and 40.

The strangest organization attached to the 10th Mountain was the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop. The unit was originally formed at Ft. Meade, South Dakota, as a horse cavalry outfit.

In November 1942 the troop was sent to Camp Hale Colorado for winter training. It was hoped that the men might be able to maneuver equally on horses and skis. However, this was not the case. Consequently officers and men of the troop were split up among various quartermaster companies. They were then replaced by expert mountaineers and the horses were replaced with mechanized equipment. The troops mission was also changed. The men became instructors, teaching rock climbing to the 10th Mountain Soldiers at Camp Hale and glacier techniques at Mount Ranier, Washington.

In the autumn of 1944, the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop was re-activated at Camp Swift Texas and soldiers with horse experience were transferred into the outfit. 

Donald Hubbard recalls his experiences with the Horse Cavalry in Italy,

After arriving at Naples, we moved inland and were billeted at San Marcello. We received Jeeps (no horses yet) and began reconnaissance patrols into the mountains and high ground occupied by the Germans. 

In the spring, we were trucked to Florence where we would finally receive our mounts. This good news lifted our spirits and gave us something different to talk about, such as what their color might be or their size, age, and temperment.

Our first look at the horses, however, was somewhat disappointing as they seemed very docile. We learned that they had been obtained from the French, Sardinians, Hungarians and Germans. A two day ride to the front revealed that our evaluation of the horses was correct. But then maybe it was better to have mounts that were easy to control, especially under fire.

On April 14, 1945 the Po River valley campaign began with the 10th heading the attack. The division rushed ahead so fast that the enemy was unable to establish an effective defense.

As mounted cavalrymen, we still didn't have riding boots or spurs but that didn't deter us. Our horses stood up well to the attack, but they often lacked the correct diet. The Italian people however often came to the rescue with whatever food they could spare.

Our objectives were not always clear, but part of the confusion was due to the large number of Germans who were surrendering. Our instructions were to send the prisoners to the rear. Other orders were to bypass pockets of resistance. It was at one of these so-called pockets of resistance that the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop fought one of the strangest battles of the war. We had advanced within a few kilometers of the Po River when we came upon a small Italian Village. The troop was moving in formation, single file with the First Platoon in the lead. There were buildings on a side street to our left, giving us a choice of either going straight ahead or turning left and passing in front of the buildings.

The Decision was quickly made for us. German machine guns on the second floor of a stone dwelling opened fire on our troops. The Third Platoon commander ordered a pistol charge on the enemy position, but some of his men were unarmed. The First and Second Platoons dismounted and prepared to support the assault. What the Third Platoon lacked in firepower was more than made up for by its overabundance of courage. Our supporting volleys were able to suppress the enemy guns, giving the Third Platoon a chance to recover and withdraw. The pistol charge was un-successful but ended without casualties to men or horses. 

The use of horses in this campaign ended when we reached the Po River at San Benedetto. We tied our horses in an orchard of fruit trees, bid them farewell, and crossed the river in boats.