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The Last American Cavalry Charge of WW2 Was in the Philippines

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.

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A soldier riding into battle on his steed brings in mind romanticized heroism. The combat effectiveness of a mounted soldier, and the amounts of skills to master horsemanship will inspire respect and awe. So much so that certain warrior classes like the European Knights, the Mongolian hordes, the Winged Hussar, the Samurai and much more became stuffs of legends, both for their fighting prowess and their skills with horsemanship. The cavalry became a crucial part of the army for a reason. Their greater speed, mobility and shock value are decisive advantages over soldiers on foot. But as the 20th century dawned, the introduction of modern weapons greatly affected the effectiveness of cavalry, up to a point where it became obsolete. Soldiers rarely ride their horses in battles, though cavalries still exist in modern times, but with different mounts. Armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, even helicopters replaced the horses. They lacked the romance of the earlier cavalry regiment, but they are great in their own rights.

But then, horse cavalries never disappeared without a fight.

During the Second World War, soldiers on their horses still managed to pull-off successful charges. And one of them was stationed in the Philippines, and helped fought the Imperial Japan.

26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts)

Insignia of the regiment.

Insignia of the regiment.

Back in the days of the American occupation of the Philippines, an army unit was formed to help defend the said country, and train the local Filipino military (Philippine Army). In 1913, the Philippine Department, a regular part of the United States Army was formally organized, nevertheless, its intelligence officer recommended the creation of an American high command in the Far East. At first, the proposal was not seriously considered, but the imminent threat of Imperial Japan led to the creation of US Army Forces – Far East (USAFFE). And during the Second World War, it had a cavalry force.

The 26th Cavalry, which was formed in 1922 and based in Fort Stotsenburg. It consisted of mounted soldiers, troops, machine gun units and various vehicle platoons. And during the invasion of Imperial Japan back in 1941, this regiment saw action in various engagements. The unit based on the Philippines comprised of American officers, and enlisted Filipino Troops (the Philippine Scouts). And in the age of modern weaponries, this seemingly anachronistic cavalry unit did their jobs well of engaging the Japanese invaders.

Conquest of Imperial Japan

Imperial Japanese soldiers.

Imperial Japanese soldiers.

As part of their plan for a "Greater East Asia War", the Imperial Japan went for the Philippines. Japan needed materials for its armed forces, and a 1936 tour by Captain Ishikawa Shingo in parts of South East Asia noted that these countries (Philippines included) were rich in resources. Hence, on the same day after they attacked Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japan staged the Philippine Campaign with one objective. Capture the resource-rich Philippines.

The problem here was that despite of the USAFFE presence in the Philippines, most of the stationed American troops were not prepared to fight. Some divisions like General Wainwright's 11th Division (PA) and 71st Division (PA) were poorly trained and equipped. Worst, the American troops lacked combat experiences. And when the enemy appeared on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf, they couldn’t stage an effective defense.

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The Japanese invaders on the other hand were far outcries from the defenders. They were battle proven, and battle-hardened soldiers with combat experiences in previous conflicts, like in Korea and Manchuria. They were also better armed than their American counterparts. But some Japanese units landing further south of the gulf would be face more formidable enemies. The 26th Cavalry of the Philippine Scouts were better trained and equipped, and surprisingly, their tactics on horseback worked well on putting up a defense.

The Charge of the 26th Cavalry Regiment.

Depiction of the cavalry charge in Morong.

Depiction of the cavalry charge in Morong.

Again, a soldier on horseback charging into enemy gunfire seems to be a dumb prospect, almost suicidal. But in the age when cavalry sound anachronistic, the charges made against the Japanese invaders worked surprisingly well.

A mounted soldier has mobility and shock value over a troop on foot. Indeed, the Philippine Scouts’ 26th Cavalry rode out and disrupted the enemy’s advance, hence delaying their assault and allowing the other units to escape and mount a resistance. The cavalry’s mobility also allowed them to make a quick return to the rest of the defenders after staging a charge. The tactics worked so well that in one case, the regiment delayed the advances of enemy infantry for six hours at Damortis, and even stopped a tank assault in Binalonan.

Then, there was this fabled cavalry charge on a bridge in Morong.

The cavalry was also used as scouts, and in one case, they managed to reach Morong before the Japanese get there. But the Japanese soldiers backed by tanks made a sudden appearance on the bridge, leaving the commander Col. Clint Pierce to order a quick charge. The men on their horses rode head on, their pistols firing and startling the Japanese vanguards, causing them to scatter. The confusion also caused the tanks to stop. After the initial charge on horseback, the soldiers dismounted to held the line. In the end, they foiled the Japanese crossing and once more delaying their advance and buying precious times.

Nevertheless, the regiment endured heavy losses, and Bataan eventually fell to Japanese control on April 9, 1942. But that won’t be the end of the 26th Cavalry of Philippine Scouts.

Guerilla Warfare

American and Filipino Guerillas with captured Japanese soldiers.

American and Filipino Guerillas with captured Japanese soldiers.

Shortage of food meant the 26th Cavalry of Philippine Scouts had to butcher their mounts for sustenance. But their fight continued even after the Japanese occupation, in the form of guerilla warfare. Even without their horses, the Troop C from this regiment participated in Tuguegarao Airfield, where they fought with 71st Infantry and 11th Infantry. The result was the death of Japanese troops and destruction of several warplanes. The Troop C will be supplemented by more soldiers and guerillas, and eventually, they were integrated to the United States Army Forces in the Philippines – Northern Luzon. Officers from the regiment who ignored orders to surrender would later organize guerilla units of their own.

Their efforts never went to waste. Together with other Filipino guerilla units, they contributed greatly to the end of Japanese occupation. Imperial Japan formally surrendered in 2 September 1945, with the Philippines winning back its freedom.

References:

1. "26th Cavalry Regiment". Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2008.

2. Nye, Logan (20 June, 2022). "The last horse charge of American cavalry was in World War II". We are the Mighty.

3.Norling, Bernard (2005). The Intrepid Guerrillas of North Luzon. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-8131-9134-8. Retrieved 21 May 2009.

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