Great Little Cavalry Squadron Returns

Recently the army activated the 1st Squadron 38th Cavalry at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.    Even cavalry enthusiasts might ask….38th Cavalry????  Where did the army come up with that number?   You might be forgiven if you guessed … “Out of a hat?”  The 38th Cavalry did not fight at Gettysburg, or the Little Big Horn, and was not part of the 1st Cavalry Division –none-the-less, it is one of the most distinguished cavalry squadrons (not regiments) in army history.

The 38th Cavalry earned its spurs and its place in history in World War II during the 11 month campaign in Northwest Europe.  It was one of two squadrons attached to the 102nd Cavalry Group (New Jersey National Guard) operating under the control of the V Corps.  It was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert O’Brien, West Point Class of 1936.  The squadron was the first unit into Paris (ahead of the 1st French Armored Division).  It also had the distinction of successfully defending the town of Monschau Germany during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.  The defense of Monschau, the anchor of the northern shoulder of the bulge, earned the squadron the Presidential Unit Citation –the army’s highest combat award a unit can earn.

So… though it is not often enough, a tip of the hat goes to the army for recognizing the qualities and exceptional history of the WWII “little cavalry squadron that could,” the 38th Cavalry, and bringing that history back to inspire today’s soliders.

    See the complete WWII history of the 38th Cavalry at this link.
Commanders of the 102nd CG, LTC Robert OBrien, CO 38th CRS on right.

Commanders of the 102nd CG, LTC Robert O'Brien, CO 38th CRS on right.



Below is a short description of the 38th Cavalry action during the Battle of the Bulge:

At the northern point of the German attack into the Ardennes were the lines of V Corps’ 102nd Cavalry Group. The group’s southern squadron, the 38th CRS, defended near the corps’ boundary in the area of the town of Monshau. The 38th CRS, unlike the 18th CRS to the south, occupied an integrated squadron defensive position with the three cavalry troops dismounted and dug-in east of the town, and on the high ground to the north. The tank company was also dug-in the main line of defense, and E Troop was in support. The squadron was arrayed A, B, F, and C from north to south. There was no squadron reserve behind the seven mile long line. The squadron had been in the position for forty days before the enemy attacked and had spent considerable time preparing their positions including setting up two completely independent and buried wire communications nets. As part of their preparation they had managed to exchange the authorized troop 60mm mortars for the larger more effective 81mm mortars at a rate of three for two. Thus the squadron had in its possession eighteen 81mm mortars –a significant increase in its indirect fire capability.

The Germans attacked the squadron with a battalion of the 326 Volksgrenadier Division, Sixth Panzer Army on the morning of December 16th. The squadron repulsed the initial attack and a subsequent attack by German infantry early in the morning –inflicted heavy losses on the attackers. On the morning of December 17 the Germans attacked again, this time in Regimental strength. One battalion attacked the Troop C positions while the main attack hit Troop B in the squadron center. Troop C stopped the attack in their sector with machinegun, tank, mortar and artillery fire. The main enemy attack hit a seam between two Troop B platoons and used the dead space to penetrate into the troop’s rear. The enemy attacked the Troop B command post but were driven away by headquarters personnel. The squadron sent a platoon of combat engineers and two F company tanks to reinforce B Troop, and with these reinforcements the enemy was forced out of the Troop positions and the penetration eliminated. The squadron counted eighty-eight enemy dead in the rear area of Troop B. In the afternoon the 102nd Group reinforced the 38th CRS with a company of armored infantry and a platoon of medium tanks. After the attacks on December 17, the 38th CRS broke up several more attacks before they began with heavy concentrations of mortar and artillery fire. In total the German left more than 200 dead in front of the cavalry positions and lost 31 prisoners. The defensive position in Monshau was never again seriously threatened.

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank of the 102nd CG

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank of the 102nd CG

 For more information on the mechanized cavalry in WWII see my webpage here.

A photo album of the 102nd Cavalry Group featuring the 38th CRS is here:  102nd Album.

Click  here for my paper on mechanized cavalry doctrine.