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 A Summary History of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment

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"The Blackhorse Regiment"

(Updated 5-9-08)

The U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) is arguably the best trained mechanized military unit in the world. The men and women of the 11th ACR currently have the task of training active and reserve units at their home base of Fort Irwin, California. Their primary mission is to act as the Opposing Force (OPFOR) for training units on rotation to the National Training Center (NTC). Blackhorse troopers also have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. The 11th Cavalry, also known by their nickname of "the Black Horse Regiment," has been on the go since their inception. They have credit for twenty regimental campaigns, earning the regiment's motto of "Allons," which means "let's go."

As a result of the Spanish American War in 1898, the regular United States Army inherited the task of occupation and administration of new territories overseas. To handle this mission, Congress increased the size of the active army by five new infantry regiments and five new cavalry regiments. One of these new regiments, the 11th, gathered for initial training at Ft Meyer, Virginia on March 11, 1901.Click to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.com

1902 found the 11th Cavalry taking part in the Philippine-American War, patrolling the island of Luzon. Jungle warfare was new to the Blackhorse troopers who often fought dismounted. The Regiment's first trooper killed in action was Private Clarence L. Gibbs on March 4, 1902. By May of that year the Regiment had cleared the island of guerrillas and moved into garrisons. Tropical illness, the climate and the guerrillas had reduced the Regiment's fighting strength to one-third. The 11th Cavalry returned to the United States in March of 1904.

The Blackhorse Regiment was one of America's "go to" military units in those early years. The 11th Cavalry deployed to Cuba to calm internal strife in that republic from 1906 to 1909. At that time, in the years following the Spanish American War, Cuba was a de facto protectorate of the United States. Immediately upon their return from Cuba, the Blackhorse had a place of honor in President Taft's inauguration parade on March 4, 1909. From their new home base at Ft. Oglethorpe, in Northwest Georgia, they deployed for patrols along the Texas-Mexican border in 1911. In May of 1914 the Regiment kept the peace in mining communities of Colorado after the Ludlow Massacre, part of a violence scarred coal strike. However, the 11th Cavalry's greatest fame comes from the honor of having made the last mounted cavalry charge in American army history.

On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionaries under Francisco "Poncho" Villa crossed the U.S. border and raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. The President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, ordered then Brigadier General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing to lead a Punitive Expedition into Mexico to find and destroy Villa's forces. The 11th Cavalry was part of General Pershing's expeditionary force. On May 5, 1916, a provisional squadron of the 11th Cavalry under the command of Major Robert L. Howze was in pursuit of a band of Villistas. After an overnight march of 36 miles they found their prey in the village of Ojo Azules, arriving there thirty minutes after sunrise. Being discovered by Mexican lookouts, Major Howze ordered a charge. The troopers entered the village with pistols firing, driving the revolutionaries out of the village before pursuing them in a running fight that lasted two hours. The enemy broke in confusion and Major Howze reported forty-two of the approximately one hundred and forty Villistas killed. Even more amazing was that not a single Blackhorse trooper was killed or wounded.

The 11th Cavalry withdrew from Mexico on February 5, 1917; just five days after Germany resumed a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against American shipping. This action would be a major factor in leading the United States into the First World War. However, tensions with Mexico continued. March 1, 1917 saw the publication of an intercepted German memorandum, known as the Zimmerman Telegram, which proposed an alliance between Mexico and Germany. The telegram contained the promise of returning the "lost territory" of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico should the Mexican government assist Germany in the event of war with the United States. At the time, the British Navy had a German merchant fleet trapped in the Gulf of California port of Santa Rosalia. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Due to the threat of a potential alliance between Mexico and Germany, a detachment of the 11th was stationed at Calexico, California, the nearest border crossing to the trapped German fleet. The rest of the Regiment spent the war years patrolling the Southwest United States to detect and deter incursion by either Mexican or German forces.

By the end of 1919 the Regiment had consolidated at its new post, the Presidio of Monterey California. The 1920s and 30s were considered the "quiet years" for the Blackhorse. Life for the cavalry in Monterey consisted of training and maneuvers, with weekend polo matches. However these quiet years were peppered with several noteworthy events for the Regiment.

In 1924 twenty-six troopers were killed and more than one hundred were injured fighting the Presidio Oil fire. The Presidio of Monterey was adjacent to the Tidewater-Associated Marine Terminal, an oil storage facility. A lightening strike started the fire, but due to the lack of safety precautions of the day, the fire spread through the whole facility. As storage tanks burned and collapsed, burning oil poured toward Monterey Bay. The bravery of the Blackhorse troopers in fighting this disaster saved countless lives and property by preventing the fire from spreading into the town of Monterey. Today, you will find some streets in Monterey named for the Blackhorse troopers who died fighting the fire.

During these years the 11th Cavalry, being stationed in California, made it into the movies. Troopers from the Blackhorse were in "Troopers Three" in 1929 and "Sergeant Murphy" starring Ronald Reagan in 1937. Reagan was himself an Army Reserve Cavalryman assigned to B Troop, 322nd Cavalry. Ronald Reagan was the last American President who served as a horse mounted cavalryman and the only President who had the honor to "serve" with the Blackhorse.

During the 1920's and 1930's armored cars, trucks, and motorcycles were slowly introduced into the 11th Cavalry, but their mainstay transportation on the battlefield was still the horse. With the threat of another overseas war looming, the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall began a program of "toughening up" the army by getting units out of their barracks and into the field. In November of 1940, the 11th Cavalry's field rotation began. The Regiment moved into camps near the California/Mexico border for training with weapons, stream crossing, and maneuvers in the desert and mountainous regions. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the Regiment was ordered to consolidate at Camp Lockett, under construction near the town of Campo, California near the Mexican border. Two Squadrons based at Camp Seeley near El Centro, California executed what became the last forced march in U.S. horse cavalry history. The units completed a ninety-mile march over rocky, mountainous and desert terrain in just a day and a half.

During the summer of 1942 the Regiment was reassigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for reorganization. They were inactivated as a horse cavalry unit and reactivated as the 11th Armored Regiment. Units of the 11th Cavalry became the cornerstone of the 11th Cavalry Group, the 11th Tank Battalion in the 10th Armored Division, and the 712th Tank Battalion in the 90th Infantry Division.

The 712th Tank Battalion, the former 3rd Squadron, 11th Cavalry entered combat on D-Day + 23 fought through France and into Germany. With the 90th Infantry Division they fought for Hill 122 in July of 1944. This hill in France was known as "the most expensive piece of real estate in World War Two." From July 3rd to the July 13th, the 90th Division suffered 7,000 casualties. The 712th crossed the Moselle River and then the Saar, before crossing back over the Saar River to enter the Battle of the Bulge. The Battalion broke through the Siegfried Line and penetrated into the heart of Germany all the way to Amberg by the time the war ended. The 712th was inactivated after the war at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey in October of 1945. They would rejoin the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in October of 1958.

The 11th Tank Battalion was created out of the 1st and 2nd Squadrons. The Battalion entered combat on October 2, 1944 and was soon heavily involved in the Battle of the Bulge. The 11th Tank Battalion made a stand in the Ardennes against two Panzer Battalions over the course of three days. Their defense bought time for relief forces to move up and block any further German advance. After the war, the 11th Tank Battalion was inactivated at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia on October 13, 1945.

The 11th Cavalry Group (Mechanized) would carry on the Blackhorse name through World War Two. Troop B, 44th Squadron was given the honor of providing security to General Eisenhower's headquarters from November of 1944 through the remainder of the war. The remainder of the Group crossed the channel on November 23, 1944 and soon found themselves in the Battle of the Bulge holding an entire sector normally occupied by a division. After the Bulge, the 11th Cavalry Group acted as the flank screen for the XIII Corps during the push from the Roer to the Rhine. The 11th was in constant enemy contact, and reached the Rhine on March 5, 1945, having inflicted 487 casualties on the enemy while taking only 56 of their own. They resumed their offensive into the heartland of Germany on April 1st. In a classic use of armored cavalry, the 11th pushed ahead of allied forces, liberating more than a thousand American POWs and several thousand slave laborers from prison camps. The 11th Cavalry reached the Elbe River on April 14th then swung north conducting mop up operations. The 11th Cavalry Group met the Russian Third Corps coming into Germany near Kunrau on May 4, 1945. This final thrust of the war resulted in the 11th Cavalry Group killing or wounding 632 German soldiers and capturing 6,128 prisoners. In 21 days the Blackhorse moved 378 miles with casualties of only 14 killed and 102 wounded.

With the end of the war, once again came the task of occupation and administration. In May of 1946 the 11th Cavalry Group (Mechanized) was re-designated the 11th Constabulary Regiment. The 11th Tank Battalion, now stateside, was re-activated as the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Constabulary Regiment. These units were issued horses once again to accomplish the mission of reconnaissance and surveillance of the movements of different factions of the populace. The concern was the possibility of resuming hostilities by any of these groups. These units have the distinction of conducting the last mounted combat patrols in United States Army history. The units' distinctive patch of a "C" inside a circle won them the nickname of "Circle C Cowboys." On November 30, 1948, both the 1st and 11th Constabulary Regiments were combined and re-designated the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and then inactivated.

The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was reactivated on April 1, 1951 as part of the military buildup for the Korean War. Stationed first at Camp Carson, Colorado, the Regiment was rebuilt from the ground up. In 1954 the Regiment moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky where they were used to train reservists. During the early days of the Cold War, high turnover of draftees was dealt with by training up entire units and then rotating them overseas. In 1957, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was deployed to Germany to replace the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment patrolling the West German/Czechoslovakian border. In May of 1960 a separate Aviation Company was added to the Regiment. Also at this time, in an effort to regain a sense of historical esprit de corps within the armored cavalry regiments, the Army reestablished the nomenclature from battalions and companies to the traditional terms of squadrons and troops. The Regiment left Germany and redeployed to Fort Meade, Maryland in 1964.

The 11th ACR developed a reputation as an almost legendary fighting force during the Vietnam War. The Regiment, first deployed in 1966, won fourteen battle streamers, and had three of its troopers win Medals of Honor. It was during Vietnam that the Regiment was granted authorization to wear its distinctive unit patch.

On September 7, 1966, the Blackhorse Regiment made an amphibious landing at Vung Tau, South Vietnam with 3,762 troopers. After establishing base camp, the Regiment began reconnaissance in force operations directed at suspected concentrations of Viet Cong forces in the provinces around Saigon. Skeptics questioned whether armor could be effective in the jungles of Vietnam. However the Regiment developed innovative tactics, techniques, and procedures that established a reputation as a relentless fighting unit. "Find the bastards, then pile on" was the trooper's slogan, and a way of life.

During the infamous Tet Offensive of January 1968 the Regiment was ordered to move into the Bien Hoa and Long Binh areas to restore security. The Blackhorse made a night move of 80 miles through contested areas in only 14 hours after initial alert notice. During this time the Regiment added the Aero-Rifle-Platoon (ARP) to its Air Cavalry Troop. Sometimes referred to as the "Blues Platoon" for their radio call sign, this airmobile unit was often sent to search and destroy suspected enemy in areas accessible only by air. Another Blackhorse innovation in Vietnam was to form a troop that used modified M113 Armored Personnel Carriers that could be airlifted by C130 aircraft. This troop outfitted with the "Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle" (ACAV) could pull out of combat in the morning and re-engage the enemy at a different location in the country by evening.

On May 1, 1970 the 11th ACR was braced to be the spearhead of the American incursion into Cambodia. The plan of this offensive was to finally destroy the North Vietnamese sanctuaries across the border in an area referred to as the "Fish Hook." The target area was prepared by massive B-52 air strikes. The Blackhorse lead the way for the 1st Cavalry Division, 25th Infantry Division, and several Army of Vietnam (ARVN) units. The Blackhorse penetrated more than 60 miles into Cambodia to capture the town of Snoul. The Cambodian Incursion was the last unrestrained offensive use of U.S. ground forces during the Vietnam War. The capture and destruction of tons of enemy weapons and supplies left the enemy devastated and unable to mount an effective offensive for some time. The result was a smoother transition of responsibility for the war to the South Vietnamese military as the American combat forces continued to withdraw.

The 2nd Squadron was the last element of the Regiment to leave, fighting as separate combat command until the end of March 1972, thus bringing to a close the Blackhorse's five and a half years of service in Vietnam. The Blackhorse went home from the toughest, most agonizing conflict that has ever engaged American soldiers overseas. They lost a total of 768 of their fellow troopers during their time in Vietnam and 5,761 were wounded. Three 11th ACR troopers were awarded the Medal of Honor, two of which were posthumous. The Regiment earned fourteen battle streamers and secured their reputation as one of the army's elite units.

The Regiment once again unfurled its colors in Germany on May 17, 1972. Now they were guarding the famous Fulda Gap. In the event of a conventional war in Europe, the Blackhorse would serve as the covering force for V Corps. In peace time, their job was surveillance and deterrence along a 385 kilometer section of the East/West German Border. The importance of the "Fulda Gap," passages through the Rhön Mountains, was that it offers any attacker from the east the shortest route across the middle of West Germany and the ability to seize the Rhine River crossings at Mainz and Koblenz. The Blackhorse grew during this period, adding a Combat Support Squadron, the 58th Combat Engineer Company, the 511th Military Intelligence Company, and an aviation squadron designated the 4th Squadron/11th ACR. The Squadrons were dispersed in peacetime in order to patrol their individually assigned sectors of the border. Regimental Headquarters, 1st Squadron, Combat Support Squadron and the 4th Squadron were all stationed in Fulda. The 2nd Squadron was stationed at Bad Kissingen and 3rd Squadron in Bad Hersfeld. Border patrol was serious business with each ground squadron maintaining an observation post (OP) which was home to a platoon sized quick reaction force. Platoons would rotate to the OPs for tours of up to 30 days at a time. The 4th Squadron would fly an aerial surveillance mission of the entire border sector every 24 hours. Border duty never ended, even with a full calendar of field maneuvers and training. This fast and stressful pace was maintained until the Iron Curtain fell on November 9, 1989. The Blackhorse ended border operations and closed their OPs on March 1, 1990. The Cold War veterans of the Blackhorse have justifiable pride at having played an important role in one of the greatest victories in military history.

While still assigned to West Germany, the Blackhorse deployed an aviation task force to Turkey in April of 1991 for operation Provide Comfort, supporting humanitarian relief to the Kurds. One month later the ground squadrons deployed to Kuwait for Operation Positive Force, to secure Kuwait during its effort to rebuild after the Gulf War. During this deployment, on the morning of July 11, 1991, a defective vehicle heater started a motor pool fire at the Blackhorse Base Camp. As the blaze grew, it began to detonate ammunition stored around the vehicle fleet. This necessitated the evacuation of the entire compound and caused extensive damage. Approximately fifty troopers were injured, but that number would have been much higher had it not been for the disciplined response to the emergency. There were no fatalities. By October of the same year, with their respective missions complete, the Regiment returned to Fulda. As the need for U.S. forces in Europe was decreasing, the Blackhorse Regiment was inactivated in a ceremony on March 15, 1994.

The Regiment was reactivated again on October 26, 1994 at Ft Irwin, California for its current mission as the OPFOR at the National Training Center. The Regiment portrays a determined opposing force that trains U.S. forces in the basic principles of army operations and challenges all battlefield operating systems. At the NTC, brigade and battalion size task forces are trained during ten rotations a year.

The Regiment is also on rotation schedule to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. In December of 2004 the 2nd Squadron deployed to Babil Province to conduct support and stability operations with the Mississippi National Guard. The 1st Squadron deployed in January of 2005 to Baghdad and was attached to four different Brigade Combat Teams during their one year tour. The Regimental Headquarters deployed to Mosul the same month and assumed duties as the division headquarters for Multi National Force Northwest. The Regiment has returned to Fort Irwin to reorganize as a deployable heavy brigade combat team while continuing to serve in rotational support for the army at large.

The Blackhorse is still considered the best trained mechanized force in the world. Writer Tom Clancy, in his book Executive Orders, says that the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment is the premier regiment in the U.S. Army. In his fictional story, he used the Blackhorse to go into the Gulf region again to stop an evil dictator. This unit has the reputation of being the standard to which other maneuver units are measured. Veterans who served with the 11th ACR are proud of the Regiment's long history of distinguished service. All over the country, in every walk of life, you'll find bumper stickers, tee shirts, and hats that proclaim for the owner, "I rode with the Blackhorse!"

 

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