Formation of the Red Army Cavalry

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The 1st Cavalry Army of General Budyonny was formed in 1918 to give the Red Army a mobile striking force and rapid reaction reserve in the Russian Civil War.

The Red Army in the Russian Civil War found itself having to be invented from thin air. It was easy to find infantrymen, and with a cadre of trained artillerists to direct them, it was easy to make artillerymen. Horse cavalry, however, was a different story. The White forces that the Reds were confronting were equipped with some of the best cavalry of the twentieth century and were led by men such as Kransov, Semenov, Mammotov, Shkuro and others who had spent their whole lives in the saddle at the head of the Tsar’s cossacks. The Reds urgently needed cavalry to perform reconnaissance, raid behind enemy lines, and mask the movements of their own troops on the battlefield. They created the 1st Cavalry Army to accomplish this.

The 1st Cavalry Army (usually referred to as the Konarmia -“horse army” or simply as the Red Cavalry) was commanded by Semyon Budyonny (also spelled Budennii, Budenny, Budyenny, etc) a former regimental sergeant major in the Tsar’s army who had won the St George cross four times for valor. Budyonny was not, as incorrectly stated in many western sources, from a cossack family and had in fact served for almost fifteen years in the 14th Imperial (Crown Prince’s) Dragoons. Dragoons were more of a mounted heavy-infantry unit than traditional light cossack cavalry. Budyonny was assisted by his commissar Kliment Voroshilov. The unit was formed in the first part of 1918 by Budyonny from a cadre of revolutionary horseman. The Red Army inducted everyman who could ride a horse including gamekeepers, watchmen, sailors, and clerks from all walks of life. To these were added peasants who knew how to ride as well as so called ‘red cossacks’. The red cossacks were typically landless ex-serfs who lived in or near cossack towns and had amalgamated into the local lifestyle but were not granted the freedoms, rights or land titles that regular cossacks enjoyed. Thier uniforms varied and many wore articles of civilain clothes from thier former occupations including sailors hats, bowlers, and miners uniforms.

This force contained other colorful commanders such as Dimitri Zhloba who led a cavalry brigade and Colonel Vadim Yakovlev who led a brigade of Red Army Cossacks. The writer Isaac Babel, on advice of Maxim Gorky, traveled with the unit as a war correspondent. He immortalized them in his book The Red Cavalry . In the ranks of the unit also carried younger men who would serve large in the next war including Timoshenko, the hero of Kursk –Krivoshein, and Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin. With these men the Konarmia fought for five years against a dozen different enemies spread out over two continents. They fought with heart and were the elite of the Russian Civil War Red Army.