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Retracing George Macdonald Fraser's "The Candlemass Road"...

Liveblogging World War II: December 24, 1940


ARMY: Flowing Horses: A line of Army scout cars rolled out of Fort Bliss, down a rutty road, and out on the Texas plain. Beyond the stubby noses of the cars stretched wave on wave of "bondocks" (sand hummocks, topped by sage and greasewood) and deep arroyos. Behind the scout cars, a mile across the twisted land, stood file after file of horsemen, half-hidden in the brush. The U. S. Cavalry was about to have some fun.

An officer's voice crackled in the scout-car radios. The four-wheel drives bit into the sand, and the cars lunged side by side over the plain. Where the bondocks were low, the light-armored cars, carrying three-man crews and two machine guns, could do 10 m.p.h. Where the hummocks were four and five feet high, 4 m.p.h. was the top. The cars were slow, but the bondocks did not stop them.

Back where the cavalry waited, the right hand of an officer rose, swung forward. Horses and horsemen spurted from the brush. In the scout cars, above the pattering exhausts, the men heard the crying breath of horses on the run. Mounted riflemen, machine-gun squads, four horse-drawn howitzers overtook, enveloped, rushed past the cars at 20 m.p.h. The horsemen vanished ahead into a shallow arroyo, arched over the far side, rode on. The artillerymen pulled up, dismounted, within a few minutes had their horses hidden, their guns barking blanks.

Where the desert abruptly broke and dropped down a pitted, 40-foot slope to a lower plain, the scout cars had to stop. But the horses did not. Over the brow of the slope, down the sandy ridge they leaped and slid. All along the ridge poured a river of men & horses, breaking at the edge, spilling downward and riding on. Half a mile beyond, they clustered again. Riflemen dismounted, jerked guns from holsters. Machine-gunners ripped at their packs, vanished into the brush with the guns. Within five minutes the squadron was deployed for battle, the horses had disappeared among the sand hills.

"Now, gentlemen, you see what I meant," said horse-proud Major General Robert Charlwood Richardson Jr., commander of the First Cavalry Division at Fort Bliss. What he meant was that horses could "flow"' over terrain where no truck, scout car or tank could go. He spent an evening last month expounding his doctrine of flowing horses and horsemen to visiting newspapermen, then put on his show next day. He had indeed demonstrated that modern cavalry could flow off roads, through brush and sand, over ridges and through gullies which would slow or balk any mechanized force. And horsed units, within the limits of a rough battlefield, could speedily transport an impressive array of fire power: a modern U. S. Cavalry division's 6,476 horses and 10,100 officers and men should carry, among other things, 9,764 pistols, 942 light & heavy machine guns, 117 artillery pieces, 4,863 Garand rifles...