The use of horses in warfares dates back to 4000 BC. They would often pull chariots or carry cavalrymen on their backs as they charged towards the enemy. They also pulled the wagons that contained an army’s supplies.  The automobile itself and the vehicles that came after it attempted to improve upon the strength and mobility of the horse. When the United States Army adopted light tanks and half tracks the personnel were drawn from its horse cavalry units.  WWII produced incredible advances in weaponry. In just a few short years, the U.S. had an atomic bomb and was making jet engines,  but in the early days of WWII, the U.S. Army still had horse cavalry units and they made one of the last cavalry charges in the 20th century. 

Unprepared for the Attack

Japan launched an attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, after attacking Pearl Harbor. Troops began landing just two days later, and the Americans in the Philippines were not prepared for the fight.

Attack on Pearl Harbour, USS SHAW exploded by the Japanese.

The 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts

US General Douglas MacArthur at that time had to depend on his elite troops to protect the rest of his units that lacked training, equipment, and manpower. So he summoned the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts composed of Filipinos who enlisted and American officers, led by Colonel Clinton A. Pierce. Their plan was to slow down the Masaharu Homma’s onrushing divisions. Masaharu Homma was a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army. The cavalrymen were exhausted from days of scouting in the hot jungle, but they found themselves saddling up and heading to Bataan, where they managed to reach the village of Morong ahead of Japanese troops.

Tanks vs. Horses

To their surprise, a vanguard of Japanese infantry arrived, and it was being led by tanks. The cavalry had little time to figure out a plan, so as reported by History News Network, they “flung themselves against the blazing gun muzzles of Japanese tanks. To the shock of the cavalrymen and the Japanese commanders alike, the cavalrymen scattered and drove back the armored squadrons.”

As reported by Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Price Ramsey, United States Army officer, “A few returned our fire, but most fled in confusion. To them, we must have seemed a vision from another century, wild-eyed horses pounding headlong; cheering, whooping men firing from the saddles.”

They continued to charge forward and counter-attacked the well-equipped Japanese troops, sacrificing their lives to protect the rest of the Filipino and American soldiers.

Fall of Bataan

They suffered heavy losses and MacArthur, later on, ordered a full retreat to Bataan. And as if the pain of their fallen comrades were not enough, the cavalrymen had to slaughter their beloved horse companions when they began to starve. According to historynewsnetwork.org, they had a “hard time holding back tears in describing how they had to shoot the horses.”

“They shared all our dangers, loving and trusting us as we did with them. There’s a special bond, and we were the last to share it,” one the riders of the 26th recalled.

This picture, captured from the Japanese, shows American prisoners using improvised litters to carry their comrades who fell along the road from the lack of food or water on the march from Bataan, Philippines, in May 1942.

Sadly, that wasn’t enough. Crippled by diseases and starvation, they surrendered to the Japanese army on April 9, 1942, where conservative estimates by historians say 600 Americans and 5,000-10,000 Filipinos died during what was known as the “Bataan Death March.”

In New York City there is a statue of a Special Forces Soldier on horseback. The Green Berets of ODA-595, Task Force Dagger actually revived the cavalry charge in Afghanistan in 2001, during the battle of Mazar-e-Shariff in October 2001.  So the horse and the cavalry that die them aren’t done yet.

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