Steeds of Steel is intended to be a portrait of the mechanized cavalry troopers and their units rather than an all-encompassing treatise covering every twist and turn of organizational, equipment, or doctrinal change. This book is the soul mate of my earlier works Steel Victory (2003), on the separate tank battalions in the European theater of operations (ETO), and The Tank Killers (2005), covering tank destroyer battalions in North Africa, Italy, and the ETO. This time, I have included the Pacific theater, which was possible because so few mechanized cavalry formations fought mounted there that the task was manageable.
The separate tank battalions were a conceptual sideshow for men far more interested in creating the big, flashy armored divisions. After the war was over, the tank battalions found permanent homes within the infantry divisions. The tank destroyer battalions arose from the minds of clever men looking for a novel way to deal with the German armored blitzkrieg. Crafted from theory rather than experience, they served extremely well in ways unforeseen by doctrine but were deemed a flawed concept and disbanded after the war. The mechanized cavalry squadrons, groups, and troops emerged because the closed minds of horse soldiers cost the Cavalry branch the ownership of the armored force, and their creation was a belated move to get the cavalry into the coming modern war. Despite the best efforts by doctrinal theorists to ignore experience, the mechanized cavalry served well enough to validate the idea of machine-mounted cavaliers, and it lives on today in the form of the armored cavalry.
As always, I have had to make choices about what and what notto include. Several imbalances may be apparent to the reader. First, because so few mechanized cavalry formations participated in the North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and southern France campaigns, the squadron-size formations that did so get much more extensive treatment than squadrons that fought entirely in the ETO. Even within the ETO, I have highlighted several squadrons to lend a sense of continuity to the work. Second, those outfits that left behind good, detailed records get more coverage than those that did not. Third, the mechanized cavalry troopers who served with the infantry divisions did so in company-size reconnaissance units. Formations that small tend to become abstractions in the official battle narrative, receiving brief summary mentions. This work highlights the experiences of the few such troops that left behind more extensive accounts and assumes that they well represent the experiences of outfits that remain unacknowledged.
One of the cavalry's wartime roles, night patrolling, was a highly individualized experience that I have not attempted to cover in any depth. I heartily recommend Fred Salter's superb memoir of his time with the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Recon Scout, to any reader interested in a deep look at that dangerous profession.
It may not be apparent to the casual reader, but it is darn hard to tell exactly what happened so many years ago. Contemporary reports written by separate participants in any given incident are likely to differ, sometimes substantially. On top of this, later accounts introduce additional flaws of memory or self-justification. The reader should view this work as the closest the author was able to get to what really happened.
I have not attempted to rewrite the history of World War II. Nevertheless, I have provided the big picture as a framework to help the reader understand the context and impact of the stories of the individual mechanized cavalry units and troopers; the actor needs the backdrop to help set the scene. The backdrops here are widely varied, from African desert to Pacific jungle to European mountains, plains, and villages.
I have crafted this work out of strict chronological order. The first half of the book covers the periphery, so to speak-North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and the Pacific, where the cavalry fought in relatively small numbers. The second half of the book tackles western Europe, where the bulk of the mechanized cavalry fought, even though events there overlap chronologically with earlier material on Italy and the Pacific.
Some readers may note that the chapter on southern France covers much of the same ground as in one chapter of First to the Rhine, which I wrote with Mark Stout. Rest assured that I have refocused the discussion on the mechanized cavalry and have included significant new material, while removing matter unrelated to the cavalry.
One note on photographs: images of the mechanized cavalrymen doing their job are scarce. This is not surprising given that they were often closer to the enemy than anybody else.
I have taken small liberties with texts drawn from the military records and personal accounts to correct grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and to introduce consistency in references to unit designators, equipment, dates, and so on. I have used the word jeep throughout for the quarter-ton truck because of its universal familiarity. Mechanized cavalrymen called the vehicle a "bantam" or, if assigned to an armored division, a "peep."
As this book was being written, Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, slashed by more than three-quarters the hours available for researchers to access materials at the National Archives outside the nine-to-five business day, and he cut the number of requests permitted during the day by a third. His decision, made for budgetary reasons, thwarts anyone who holds a standard job and stands to do great harm to historical research of the nation's records. When budgets are tight, bureaucracies must make choices. This was a bad one.