After the Civil War, the U.S. Army in 1866 recast its myriad of legacy light cavalry and dragoon-type mounted rifle units into ten U.S. Cavalry Regiments, numbered 1-10. Of course, these included such historic units as the circa 1833 1st Dragoons, the 1836-dated 2nd Dragoons, the 3rd “Brave Rifles,” and the new Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cav. It was these ten regiments that held the line in the Old West, scattered in isolated detachments across the sparsely settled territories, only coming together in larger units for the assorted campaigns of the Plains Wars.
The first new mounted regiment formed after the big 1866 reorganization wasn’t until the 20th Century when the 11th Cavalry was constituted on 2 February 1901 and organized on 11 March 1901 at Fort Myer, soon thereafter leaving to fight insurgents in the Philippines.
Led by its regimental band and mascot, the 11th U.S. Cavalry is shown passing in review on the parade ground of Fort Des Moines, in the summer of 1904. The unit is barely three years old in this image and had just returned from fighting overseas in the Philipines. Via Mike Brubaker.
Going on to serve in the Villa Expedition, they spent the Great War on the Mexican border– just in case– but, after hanging up their horses in 1942 became a mechanized unit and haven’t looked back.
Fighting their way across Northwest Europe in 1944-45, they remained stationed in Germany (while vacationing in Vietnam from time to time) as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment until 1993, waiting as a speedbump in the Fulda Gap for a Third World War that, gratefully, never kicked off. Since then, they have been the OPFOR at Fort Irwin.
The regiment this week celebrated their 120th.
The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center has a lot of vehicles that look more Moscow than Motown.
Since 1994, the 11th ACR’s task at the NTC is to serve as the armored opposing force, the home team at the sprawling 996 sq. mile Mojave Desert base where they regularly engage active and reserve mechanized and armor units in war games. In a tradition going back to the 1980s, the OPFOR uses a series of what are termed “surrogate vehicles,” visually modified Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers, and others, which provide a different silhouette, closer to former Warsaw Pact BMP-1 vehicles and T-72 tanks, for visiting units to look for and fight against.
Deep down inside, there is a Humvee under there. (Photos: Sgt. David Edge and Pfc. Austin Anyzeski/U.S. Army)
Oddball would fit right in. “Well, yeah, man, you see, like, all the tanks we come up against are bigger and better than ours, so all we can hope to do is, like, scare ’em away, y’know. This gun is an ordinary 76mm but we add this piece of pipe onto it, and the Krauts think, like, maybe it’s a 90mm. We got our own ammunition, it’s filled with paint. When we fire it, it makes… pretty pictures. Scares the hell outta people!”
These started life as M113s. In the 1980s, the NTC OPFOR used M551 Sheridans, but they were replaced by 2004 with the cheaper and more prolific M113.
More in my column at Guns.com
What better way to celebrate the 11th of October with this snap of members of the 11th Armored Cavalry stooped to talk with West German Bundesgrenzschutz border police while patrolling the border between the DDR and FGR in Ford M151 MUTT light vehicles (marked with 7th Armored Cav Regt). Date 1979.
Dig the M1911s in leather holsters, OD green uniforms which would be replaced by woodland BDUs in just a few years, distinctive Blackhorse patches and black berets long before it was cool– as a homage to the British Royal Tank Regiment who adopted the headgear as standard in 1924 (while the German Panzer units did the same in the late 1930s and brought them back in 1956 with the Bundeswehr).
As noted by an 11th Cav veteran’s group, “In the US Army, HQDA policy from 1973 through 1979 permitted local commanders to encourage morale-enhancing distinctions, and Armor and Armored Cavalry personnel wore black berets as distinctive headgear.”
Formed in 1901, the Blackhorse served in the Philippines, along the border, and in the 1916 pursuit of Villa in Mexico (where they rode 22 hours straight to the rescue of United States forces besieged in Parral), before cooling their heels stateside in the Great War. Ditching their horses for armor in 1940, they served in Western Europe during WWII, fighting at the Bulge, then alternated Cold War service between West Germany and Vietnam (1966-71) and finally Kuwait before being sent to the NTC at Ft. Irwin in 1994 as the designated OPFOR (with breaks since then to go to the sandbox for real).
Troopers check map coordinates from the deck of their M48A1 Patton Tank just a few kilometers east of the Cambodian border in March, 1971. (11th Armored Cavalry Regiment photo by Mike Roch)
And yes, that does appear to be a captured NVA twin 14.5-mm ZPU-2 gun mounted on top of the beast, covered by a picnic table umbrella. What else?
Background on the regiment
The 11th ACR “Blackhorse” was one of the first horse cavalry regiments established in the regular army since the Civil War. During the 1916 Punitive Expedition against Villa, the 1st Squadron rode 22 hours straight to the rescue of United States forces besieged in Parral. Ditching their horses for tracks and wheels after WWI, they were in Europe in time for the Battle of the Bulge and the final push to Germany.
The regiment spent most of the period from 1945-1994 in West Germany first as combat troops in the end stages of WWII, then as constabulary troops, then holding the Fulda Gap for a pending Warsaw Pact invasion. The notable exception to this time period was 1966-72 when the Blackhorse went to Vietnam. Largely the only U.S. armor in the region, they were in large part a fire brigade rushed from place to place, seeing lots of heavy action. In 2009, the unit received a much delayed a Presidential Unit Citation for its Vietnam service.
Since 1994 the Blackhorse have served as the OPFOR at the NTC in Fort Irwin with two active squadrons, a round-out squadron (1/221 CAV) from the Nevada National Guard, and an artillery battalion (1/144) from the California Guard.