Sunday, 17 June 2012

Estonian cavalry

Compared to the large cavalry armies of the East, Estonia seems to have had remarkably few cavalry. For example, at the battle of Cesis in June 1919 they had only 65 with 6,500 infantry, whereas the German Frei Korps had 500-600 for about the same number of infantry. When the 1st Cavalry Regiment had been formed in December 1918 most of the officers had had no cavalry training in the Tsarist forces, and many of the men could not even ride.

Estonian cavalry 1919 (The Estonian War Museum - General Laidoner Museum)

By May 1919 there were two cavalry regiments, the 1st with 4 squadrons, the 2nd with 3, and both with machine gun and signal detachments, about 900 men. There were differences though, the best trained, and motivated, men had joined the 1st Regiment when it was formed, so that throughout the war it performed much better than the 2nd Regiment, and had higher morale. In May, both cavalry regiments were attached to the 3rd Division, so the the 1st and 2nd Divisions had no cavalry formations at all. By October the 1st Regiment had been transferred to the 2nd Division, but the 1st still had none.

Instead, cavalry were attached to other units, so that each infantry regiment had a cavalry detachment of about 20-30 men (a Ratsakomando) for scouting. Gradually the numbers increased, so when the 7th Infantry Regiment was formed in December 1919 it had about 80 cavalry out of 1,714 men, as well as a ski/ cyclist platoon.
An Estonian armoured train in the forest

Companies also operated in conjunction with armoured trains (Soomusrongide divisjoni eskadrons), which were quite a feature of warfare in the area. The Estonians had pioneered the use of attachments of infantry and cavalry in this regard - the infantry, heavily equipped with automatic weapons, could hold areas, whilst the cavalry could scout around a prevent unpleasant surprises.

An example comes from the reminiscences of Willem Rakfeldt, leader of the cavalry troop on No. 3 armoured train, which took part in the liberation of Tartu in 1919. The line to Tartu was held by Latvian units, and other trains had been repeatedly held up by partisans cutting the track.

"We were ten men at the disposal of the commander of the train. Several of our horses were captured from the enemy. Our horsemen moved ahead on both sides of the train and we saw a lot of Reds but they did not break the rails in front of us.
I sent two young men on horseback to gather intelligence. However they were made prisoner. They were placed in a pig sty and locked in. But the boys managed to break out and escape to the forest. They were shot at, but manged to evade and fortunately came back to us unscathed.

 The attack on Tartu

Armoured trains 1 and 3 went on towards Tartu. A few kilometres from the city we left the train and circled around to enter the city from the left. The Reds were retiring and setting fire to the city. Locals immediately directed us to the Kreditklassa building where prisoners were held in the basement. We reached there at the same time as men from No. 1 train. We opened the basement door and saw terrible images. People were lying on the floor and on top of each other, still warm and bloody. We found one man who was wounded and had multiple leg wounds. He survived."

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