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The Isbuscenskij charge

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An episode of the Italian war on the Russian front.

3rd Regiment “Savoia Cavalleria”. Photo credit. Instituto Luce

This article is intended to recall The Isbuscenskij charge, the last cavalry charge in history against regular troops, drawn from 650 swords of the 3rd Regiment “Savoia Cavalleria” on the banks of the Don river on August 24, 1942.  The Poloj charge of  the following October  was made against Yugoslav partisans departments.

The Isbuscenskij charge was in full-blown, drawn sabers, white gloves, many officers with the monocle, according to the canons of the noble tradition and against 3,000 Soviet soldiers who were encircling them, armed with machine guns.

The  protagonist was a regiment of the most ancient and glorious Italian units, constituted from Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy and later the King of Sardinia, in 1692.  It dissolved in the years 1699-1701.  From 1701  It took part in succession wars of XVIII° century and was dissolved in 1799 with Savoia family’s exile in Sardinia .It was reconstituted by Vittorio Emanuele I in 1814, and participated in the wars of the Risorgimento, entering Rome in September 20, 1870 and Udine in November 3, 1918.

The Regiment started to work in the Second World War in Yugoslavia in June-July 1941 with the Celere Army Corps of General Pecetti Weiss, but was called back because it was intended to be part of the CSIR (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia) of General Messe, accompanied with the Turin and Pasubio Divisions, the 5th Regiment “Lanceri di Novara and 2000 Blackshirts from Tagliamento Legion.  After a short period of cantonment in Lonigo (Vicenza), the unit was transferred to Romania by train and then travelled on horseback to the Carpathians, Moldova, Bessarabia and the Ukraine, travelling 1,200km in 35 days, the men remaining on the saddle for 8-10 hours a day.

At the end of September it arrived on the banks of the Dnieper and on 25 October it took part in the conquest and occupation of Stalino with the 3rd Regiment Bersaglieri and the German 11th Army. After the winter break and spring, the Regiment traveled another 400 km and 11 July 1942 was on the banks of Don, as part of the Celere division “Principe Amedeo d’Aosta”, of XXXV Corps and of the 8th Army (known as Armir = Italian Army in Russia “) of General Italo Gariboldi.

The experience of these months of war on the Russian front had made it clear that the Italian M91 rifle was inferior to the automatic and semiautomatic Soviet guns and had led the command to replace the light sabers of national laws with the strongest weapons stolen in the Cossack area.

But on August 19, the Soviet counter-offensive began with the liberation of the town of Simovskij and the retreat of infantry units at the front.  On the 20th, a detachment led by Lieutenant Conforti had been sent with the Legion Tagliamento to give a hand to the nearby Divisione Sforzesca near Bobrowskij and Tschebokarevskij, while the regiment had to contain the enemy’s offensive and, if possible, push it beyond the Don.

After 4 days on horseback under the command of Colonel Count Alessandro Bettoni di Cazzago, the Regiment was placed on a hill at an altitude of 231.5 north of Cebotarevskij in order not to be caught by surprise.  The Regiment was arranged in defense of the position.

It was 3:30 am on Oct. 24, when a recon patrol of six troopers under the command of Sergeant Comolli, reported that the Soviets had partly surrounded the outpost, hiding themselves among the surrounding sunflower fields with machine guns. The cavalry, was isolated on the right and left.  The other Italian troops were 50 km away.  It was decided that the only decisive action to be taken in these circumstances was to attack the enemy forces, so that he could draw back across the Don and allowing the Italians to have an ordered withdrawal.

The 2nd Squadron under Captain F. De Leone charged the first time, extending to the right in order to hang up on its side.  Major Manusardi, commander of the 1st Squadron Group (1st and 2nd Sq) and superior in rank, wanted to join in the action “A saber more to your orders” said to the subordinate and when the captain’s horse was mowed down by machine gun fire, he immediately took the head of the unit.

The Russians, surprised at the beginning, reorganized themselves in a short time and Manusardi in turn had to reorder the ranks for a second charge.  When the sun was high, it was the 4th Squadron’s turn.  It was under Captain Silvano Abba, whose impulse led to a contrasting success that led to the death of many horses and the need to fight dismounted in close combat with the enemy and costing the commander’s life.

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Comments

  1. Ten.Col. Valter says:

    Salve,
    I have a particular interest in the Savoia Cavaleggeri—my nextdoor neighbor-who is now 90–was in the 2’d squadron at Ibushenskij–His memories of the charge are quite strong–he said he went in with 3 “red devil” grenades on his ammo bandoleer –they threw them all and then went in, sabres out. (He didn’t use the cossack “shaska”-as many troopers did—he used his delicate issued Italian saber)–it was cut and slash all the way–the only time when he fired his gun is when he had to shoot his badly injured horse at the end of the charge. He was crying when he told me this part–he was/is obviously a born horseman–and even though his town is in Campania, he came fro a good noble family, and was thus in the Savoia. How many survivors are left?
    Ciao,
    JJV

  2. marco amerigo fermani says:

    thank you. it’s a very interesting contribution

  3. Marco,

    You should be able to make any corrections by clicking the “edit” button next to your name by the article. Just make sure you are logged in first.

  4. marco fermani says:

    —errata corrige:

    line 18-19: obviously Swift(Celere) is the Army Corps e not the General Pecetti Weiss.

    —From 1701 to 1799 the Regiment took part in succession wars of XVIII° century