44th Mongolian Cavalry
December 11, 2012 10:55 PM   Subscribe

The last Cavalry Charge. That's how I remember it, but I can't find it anywhere anymore. In the winter of 1941 a troop of cavalry attacked a German armored column. They were not successful.

Some ten years ago I downloaded a riveting narrative about a troop of Cavalry, probably defending the siege of Moscow in November, 1941. The writer seems to have been a German officer who was in the armored column.

He describes the scene using spare yet vivid phrases--the officers leaning over their horses' necks, snow flying from the hooves, and the terrible inevitable consquence of horse cavalry against a few dozens of well-trained machine gunners. The gunners were stunned by the charge, and they sat behind their guns until their reverie was broken by the screaming, charging horsemen.

They fired and the first wave was mowed down. They sat in stunned silence as the second wave of horsemen came upon, and they fired, but one or two of the cavalary officers made it through the hail of steel, and actually leaped his mount over one of the trucks before he was cut down. The gunners killed all of the second wave. And the third. And the next. And the next. In the end, some 2000 men and their horses lay dead in the snow around the German column.

My poor rendition pales compared to the diary of the German officer who told this story. I have long since (over 10 years) lost the link where I found this. I can't seem to find the hard copy that I made. It's a fairly short narrative, perhaps five or six hundred words.

I can't find it. Google fails me, except for one possible link,which is in Russain, which I don't read.

My recollection is that the Cavalry unit was the 44th Mongolian Cavalry. They weren't Mongols, but I believe they were either Russian or Polish, and they were stationed in Mongolia, probably even were mounted on stubby little Mongolian ponies.

Here is the only relevant link I found. My babel translator seems to think this narrative resembles the one I remember.


Can the Metamind find the English narrative?
posted by mule98J to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There seems to be an English translation of part of a German officer's report here, in Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War (p. 263), drawn from a Russian-language source (B. Nezverov, Moskovskaia Bitva: Fenomen Vtoroi Mirovoi).

I did find a somewhat skeptical discussion here, based largely on the theory that Mongolian units would not have been sent to the Western front as they were needed where they were. But if they were from Tashkent instead, at least that would account for part of the trouble finding this.
posted by dhartung at 11:21 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also quoted in English here -- Sealing Their Fate: The Twenty Two Days That Decided World War II. Via (sort of) this blog, which screwed up a link to the text you probably read, and is now ungoogleable.
posted by dhartung at 11:27 PM on December 11, 2012

The Last Major Cavalry Charge, courtesy of history.com.
posted by Nomyte at 3:07 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

The is not a reply to your question, and thus slightly contravenes MeFi rules. But since that story interested you so much, you would probably also be interested in the penultimate cavalry charge, on 21 January 1941. Here's an account. (Disclosure: own article)
posted by aqsakal at 3:36 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Thank you for this question because I've now learned that the stories of the Polish cavalry charge on German tanks are mythical.)
posted by availablelight at 4:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Worse than mythical, they were largely German propaganda.

The Polish Cavalry were real, and they did fight against the Germans in the second world war, but they operated more like dragoons - they rode to their positions, and then fought dismounted. They were elite forces, and actually won a few battles, including one against a Panzergrenadier division equipped with armored half-tracks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the (whew) prompt responses.

dhartung's site seems to refer to the document (and event) I had in mind, but it turns out to be a slightly different version of the same event. Maybe a different translator. I was surprised by such a lack of documentation for this battle. This leads me to suspect that it may be apocryphal or even completely fictitious. I'm sure that mounted cavalry units participated in battles during WWII, just suspicous of this particular narrative, as engrossing as it was.

Certain features of the narrative seemed creditable, though. I can see the stunned German gunners, entranced by the awesome spectacle enfolding as they watch the cavalry troops forming their skirmish lines in that snowy winter landscape. I can relate to the screaming silence that came over the German column after each attack, and the mounting sense of unreality that must have been present among the troops in the German perimeter. Then the final insult to the senses: the mortal, bloody aftermath, dead horses and men, torn apart, strewn about the landscape in graceless, obscene heaps.

If that cavalry troop accomplished anything by their sacrifice, it was to add a sense of futility to what already was a fact of the brutal Russian winter: what kind of people are these? We shall have to kill them all. This isn't the sort of thing we see from our comfortable viewpoints, removed by time and distance and circumstance. We see futility perhaps, or we are repelled by the carnage. In any case, no military action is merely the body count or clever tactics. It is never what it was, but what it meant to those who were there--plus the rippling effect on their families, friends. Certain notions such as honor or duty or sacrifice are as tangible as the heat from the sun to those who are affected by them. This is the sort of thing that gets lost in history texts, or simplified or overplayed in those war stories told by grizzled veterans dredging up failing memories at their reunions. Their stories get less painful as the years pass, mostly because of details thought, but not said aloud, and eventually the hidden thoughts are unbidden during the telling of the tale. Only now and then does the unedited vision make its way to the surface. Official histories always leave out the inconvenient versions of anything.

During my search I was referred to several websites--discussion boards--written in either Polish or Russian. Did me no good, since I have no way to search the threads. Although I have spent some time in the US Army, I'm not a particularly acute student of military affairs, or military-oriented history. This tale interested me for its compact, intriguing narrative elements.

dhartung's response seems to be the event I was looking for, but I guess the particular document I was looking for is no longer available on the web.

Thanks to you all for your help.
posted by mule98J at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: mule93, if you want/need help looking into Russian-language sources, a friend of mine is a Russian-American professional (court) interpreter.

Anyway, I'm getting perhaps a little closer. There is an English translation of Unternehmen Barbarossa by Ewald Osers (in English, Hitler Moves East, Little, Brown (1964)). There is a full PDF on a UK website with imprecise ideology, but quite possibly Nazi-sympathetic. [PDF on nazi.org.uk] There is a partial excerpt on FreeRepublic, which includes what may be the relevant passage; a sample:

The artillery spotter's voice sounded a little choked as he passed the information back over the telephone. A cavalry charge in 1941?

He was lying in a hole in the ground, on a sheet of tent canvas. His trench telescope had been painted white with a paste of chalk tablets immediately after the first fall of snow. Now it did not show up against the snow blanket which, still clean and white, covered the fields and hills of Musino. Still clean and white. But already the squadrons were charging from the wood. They churned up the snow and the earth : the horses stirrup touching stirrup, the riders low on the horses' necks, their drawn sabres over their shoulders.

The spare language may or may not be the result of translation.
posted by dhartung at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think dhartung has it pretty much nailed.
posted by Atreides at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2012

Response by poster: dhartung... You nailed it. Thanks. This is definitely the action I was looking for. It's also a different translation from the one I used to have.

Carell's version has intriguing details. It appears that this wasn't the first cavalry charge. In June, another unit was similarly wiped out near the town of Yezionitsa.

Thanks for your effort. Unless that page (in Russian) that I linked in my post has different information, I don't require the services of a translator.
posted by mule98J at 8:38 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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