The standard saddle for the United States Army from 1858 to 1943 was the McClellan. Its light weight and ability to carry a variety of loads made it an ideal cavalry saddle. The McClellan was also very popular with equestrian endurance racers and many of today's specialized endurance saddles owe much to the original McClellan design.
The photographs here illustrate typical equipment of the 1941 Regular Army Cavalry and are presented for educational purposes. It is not a prerequisite for new members of the unit to own the tack illustrated here.
The cavalry of 1941 used the McClellan Saddle M1928 (Modified). The "modification" consisted of the addition of an English-style cord girth and side skirts. The previous model saddle, the M1904, used a Western-style horsehair cincha and had no skirts. The saddle shown in the photograph, right, started life as an M1904 manufactured in 1918. The skirts are dated 1941 The first M1928 saddles continued use of the hooded stirrup of the M1904. In 1940, a new, unhooded, plain wooden stirrup was adopted.
In the photograph to the left, the horse is outfitted for light garrison duty or equitation training. He is wearing the saddle without saddle bags or other accessories and he is fitted with the M1909 bridle with a single bit, in this case a snaffle. As seen here, the halter and lead-line were left on the horse for nearly all mounted activities. All Army leather goods after 1904 were russet-red leather which darkened to deep red-brown with repeated cleanings.
The M1904 saddlebags and the M1 rifle in its scabbard are added to the horse for some garrison duties and short range combat or reconnaissance patrol (right). In 1936 the U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30 M1, popularly known as the "Garand" rifle in honor of its inventor, was adopted as the standard service rifle of the U.S. Army. It was widely distributed among Regular Army first-line combat units by 1940. The M1 was the first semi-automatic service rifle adopted by any country and would go on to play a major role in America's success in World War II. For further information on cavalry weapons see the Uniform section.
In this photo (left) of the horse's offside we see the M1917 mounted canteen is snapped to the cantle ring and strapped down to the off-side saddlebag. For field use, the horse is now fitted with a double bridle (also called a Weymouth or full bridle) consisting of a snaffle bit and a curb bit. The M1909 bridle shown previously is converted to a double bridle by the addition of a curb bit and its reins plus bridoon hangers which carry the snaffle bit. The double bridle was the standard U.S. Cavalry bridle from about the turn of the 20th Century. This type of bridle gives greater control and allows the rider to execute more complex movements of the horse than either the curb or snaffle bit alone.
Difficult to see in these photos, a link strap is also added to the bridle for field and combat use. This strap attaches to the offside ring of the snaffle bit, passes through the nearside snaffle ring and snaps to a fitting on the bridle. Cavalry troopers could only bring the heavy firepower of rifles, machine guns and mortars into play when dismounted. Three men out of four would dismount and the horses would be linked together using the link straps. The fourth man, still mounted, would lead the three linked horses to cover while the dismounted troopers would go into action. Two horses could also be linked together by attaching the link strap of one to the rear saddle ring of the other. In this way, the horses would not be able to wander off but could only circle in place. (Reenactors please note: horses must work and train together for some time before they can be safely linked as described here. We recommend that even well trained horses be linked only by the halter rings and never by the bit.)
The photo to the left illustrates the complete field pack for cavalry per the 1941 regulations. The display illustrates everything carried by the horse and trooper. Spare clothing, toiletries, rations, mess gear, horse grooming equipment, ammunition and personal items are carried in the saddlebags and shown in the center area of the display. M1911 .45 caliber pistol, gas mask and basic ammunition load are carried in the web equipment worn by the trooper (lower left of the display).
To pack the saddle (below, right), the rolled-up feed bag is attached to the pommel. A separate grain bag is enclosed within the rolled feedbag. (The unrolled feedbag and the white canvas grain bag are shown in the lower corner of the display photo, above.) When not being worn, the raincoat or overcoat would be strapped on top of the feedbag. The coat was not folded but rolled up full length and left to hang over the sides of the saddle. (See the illustration at the top of the homepage.)
The bedroll is strapped to the cantle. The roll is made by placing the folded bed blanket on top of the shelter tent half, placing the tent pole and pins inside the blanket and tightly rolling the whole thing so as to have the shelter-half completely enclosing, and thereby weatherproofing, the blanket. When two shelter-halves are assembled together they form the familiar two-man "pup tent".
The canteen is again fastened to the offside saddlebag. The M1917A1 helmet is attached to the nearside saddlebag (above right). This is a slightly modified version of the First World War helmet. The familiar M1 "steel pot" was not officially adopted until November, 1941 and not widely distributed until well into 1942.
Two variations of field equipment are shown in this photograph (left) taken at the Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley, Kansas, (photo by Sgt. Al Jelten). Both horse and man are wearing gas masks as would be used in the event of chemical attack. The horse gas mask proved impractical in that it did not allow the horse sufficient air to carry out strenuous activity and it did not protect the eyes from irritant and lacrimator agents. Fortunately, the effectiveness of these measures were never tested in combat. These somewhat primitive gas masks would not have protected horse or man from the nerve agents which had already been developed by the Germans.
The horse mannequin above is also fitted with a pack saddle. This saddle would be used to carry machine guns, mortars, spare ammunition and other heavy/bulky items. With very few exceptions (e.g. the 26th Cavalry in the Phillipines), the horse cavalry did not fight in World War II. However, pack horses and mules saw extensive use in the rugged terrain of places such as Sicily, Italy and Burma. See the Further Reading page for a good book on pack mules of the U.S. Army (Shavetails and Bell Sharps) and for the story of the 26th Cavalry (Lieutenant Ramsey's War).
Officer's saddles and equipment were different from that of enlisted men. The Phillips Military Saddle, Model 1936 was adopted in January 1937 as the standard officer's saddle. This saddle was developed by and named for Colonel Albert Phillips who also developed the pack saddle shown above. The Phillips saddle replaced the two or three saddles which officers were previously expected to procure: a field saddle, a jumping saddle and, in many cases, a polo saddle.
The basic Phillips saddle is shown in the photograph to the right. The saddle could be fitted with saddlebags and pommel bags, the latter fitting into the metal slots visible on the pommel. A shelf could be attached behind the cantle to take the weight of the bedroll without pressing directly on the horse's back. The saddle design accomodated many types of horse conformation and preserved the horse's back on long marches better than the previous M1917 Officer's Saddle. The saddle came with a specially designed, hard-woven felt saddle pad, although the example here is shown with a standard horse blanket.
The Phillips saddle was specifcally designed as a "forward seat" saddle. The saddle in the photograph is not properly fitted to the horse's back. In an article in the March-April, 1939 issue of the Cavalry Journal, Colonel Phillips wrote: "...for even with a forward seat saddle, if it is placed in a too far forward position, with the pommel higher than the cantle, the rider will be riding the cantle and reaching for his stirrups and to that extent be uncomfortable." This author has proven the accuracy of Col. Phillips words! Once the saddle was placed correctly and used wtih a riser pad under the cantle it became a very comfortable and usable saddle.
A canvas horsecover was available for inclement weather, cooling out after exercise, and transport. The M1912 Horsecover (left) had a separate surcingle and was issued in a plain canvas version and one lined with blanket wool. The example shown in the photograph is the plain canvas type and is marked "Rock Island Arsenal 1918".
The M1912 Feed Bag which was carried rolled with the grain ration on the pommel is shown here in use on the horse. It is suspended from the horse's head and neck by canvas web straps. The body of the bag is a long canvas cylinder, open at one end. In use, grain drops into the front of the bag as the horse dips his head but cannot spill or go into the horse's nostils if he tosses his head while eating.
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