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a military force consisting of mounted troops trained to fight from horseback. Horseback riding probably evolved independently in the Eurasian steppes and the mountains above the Mesopotamian plain. By 1400 B.C., the use of smelted iron to make weapons gave the infantry supremacy. Cavalry was used for scouting and pursuit of a routed enemy, but with a few exceptions infantry remained dominant in Europe until the threat of light cavalry relying on archery, typified by the Mongols (see Jenghiz KhanJenghiz Khan
or Genghis Khan
, Mongolian Chinggis Khaan, 1167?–1227, Mongol conqueror, originally named Temujin. He succeeded his father, Yekusai, as chieftain of a Mongol tribe and then fought to become ruler of a Mongol confederacy.
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), brought about the adoption of heavy armored cavalry, developed first by the Parthian Empire.

European feudalismfeudalism
, form of political and social organization typical of Western Europe from the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire to the rise of the absolute monarchies. The term feudalism is derived from the Latin feodum,
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 was based on such knightsknight,
in ancient and medieval history, a noble who did military service as a mounted warrior. The Knight in Ancient History

In ancient history, as in Athens and Rome, the knight was a noble of the second class who in military service had to furnish his own mount
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, made possible by the introduction of saddles in the 4th cent. and stirrups in the 8th cent. to the West. Both saddles and stirrups had been used in the East since the 1st cent. In Europe, cavalry dominated local wars and attempts to fend off Norsemen, Magyar, and Muslim raiders. The Crusades were essentially cavalry wars and sieges, eventually won by the Muslims, and the incredible military success of the Mongols in the 13th cent. was based on their cavalry. At the end of the Middle Ages, infantry came to the fore again but cavalry remained prominent in the armies of Louis XIV, Frederick II (Frederick the Great), and particularly Napoleon.

In the 19th cent., cavalry was frequently used by Europeans in colonial wars, by the U.S. army and Plains peoples in the Indian warsIndian wars,
in American history, general term referring to the series of conflicts between Europeans and their descendants and the indigenous peoples of North America. Early Conflicts
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, and in the U.S. Civil War. However, the value of cavalry, already diminished by the development of rifles, plummeted with the introduction of machine guns and other automatic weapons at the end of the 19th cent. In World War I, because of trench warfare, horsemen were used only in small numbers on the plains of E Europe and the Middle East, but they were decisive in the Arab revolt (see Lawrence, Thomas EdwardLawrence, T. E.
(Thomas Edward Lawrence), 1888–1935, British adventurer, soldier, and scholar, known as Lawrence of Arabia. While a student at Oxford he went on a walking tour of Syria and in 1911 joined a British Museum archaeological expedition in Mesopotamia.
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). Cavalry was employed against Germany at the beginning of World War II by the Polish and Soviet armies, but the highly mobile tank and armored units that were introduced in that war led to end of the use of mounted troops. The modern U.S. 1st Cavalry Division consists of helicoptered airborne troops.

See also SpahisSpahis
or Sipahis
, Ottoman cavalry. The Spahis were organized in the 14th cent. on a feudal basis. The officers held fiefs (timars) granted to them by the sultan and commanded the personal loyalty of the peasants who worked the land.
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See J. Lawford, Cavalry (1976).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a combat arm that uses riding horses for movement and combat action.

The cavalry originated in the countries of the ancient world, in the regions where horses were raised on a large scale. Before the appearance of the cavalry in the armies of Egypt, China, and India, horse-drawn war chariots were used. The cavalry was used for the first time as a combat arm by the Assyrian Army in the ninth century B.C. and then spread to other slaveholding states. In the Persian Army it was the main combat arm from the sixth century B.C; it was divided into heavy cavalry (clibana-rii), armed with swords and pikes, and light cavalry, armed with bows and arrows, javelins, and spears. A cavalry battle began with the shooting of arrows and the throwing of javelins to break up the combat formation of the enemy and ended with an attack by the heavy cavalry supported by mounted archers.

The Parthian cavalry in the third to first century B.C. was organized and used in combat in roughly the same way. The cavalry of the ancient Greek states (Sparta and Athens) was small. But since there were many horses in northern Greece (in Thessaly and Boeotia), Thebes could form a larger cavalry. In the first half of the fourth century B.C. the Theban general Epaminondas deployed cavalry for the first time in cooperation with infantry and skillfully used it to accomplish the defeat of the enemy in the battles of Leuctra and Mantinea. In the second half of the fourth century B.C. a regular cavalry was created in Macedonia as an independent combat arm along with the infantry. The cavalry of Alexander the Great was well trained and had great maneuverability and striking power; it was divided into heavy, medium, and light cavalry. The medium cavalry was the most numerous, but the heavy cavalry, which had mighty weapons and good means of defense, struck the decisive blow. In the campaigns of Alexander the Great the regular cavalry began playing a decisive role in combat (the battles of Granicus, Issus, and Gaugamela [Arbela]). In the Roman Army the cavalry was an auxiliary combat arm. In the Second Punic War (218– B.C.), Hannibal widely used the first-class cavalry of the Carthaginian Army to strike blows at the flanks of the enemy with a complete envelopment of his battle formation; Hannibal’s cavalry played a decisive role in defeating the Roman Army on the Trebbia River and at Cannae.

After the establishment of feudalism in Western Europe in the eighth and ninth centuries, the knightly cavalry became the chief military force of the feudal army. The knights were armed with swords and heavy lances and protected by shields, helmets, and armor, which covered the entire body; from the second half of the 12th century the war horses were also covered with armor. The heavily armed knights could attack only at a short distance and at a slow gait; combat was reduced to duels between individual horsemen. The lowest organizational and tactical unit of the knightly army was the “lance,” which consisted of one knight and the men serving him, including the weapon bearer, archers mounted and on foot, lancers, and servants—a total of from four to ten men; between 20 and 50 or more lances formed a “standard” (khorugv’), which consisted of vassals of an important feudal lord. Several standards formed the knightly army (usually not more than 800–, 000 knights). In comparison with the cavalry of be ancient world the knightly cavalry had lost its mobility and could not pursue the enemy.

In the army of the ancient Russian state (ninth and tenth centuries) the cavalry was represented by the prince’s retinue, which was numerically smaller than the unmounted city and village militia. In the 11th and 12th centuries the size of the cavalry was increased to fight the nomads. The Russian cavalry exhibited a high level of mastery in the Battle on the Ice of 1242, when Alexander Nevsky led the cavalry in the rout of the German knightly forces. The battle of Kulikovo of 1380 was decided by Dmitrii Donskoi’s ambush cavalry regiment. In the war of the Asian feudal states the Mongol-Tatar light cavalry of Genghis Khan and his successors (13th and 14th centuries) displayed a remarkable degree of organization and combat efficiency. The Mongols were excellent horsemen and perfect masters in the use of the bow and arrow, the saber, and the lasso. They skillfully maneuvered on the battlefield, used faked retreats and ambushes, and kept strong reserves for the final thrust.

With the invention and development of firearms (in the 14th century) and the increasing role of the infantry in the late 15th century, the knightly cavalry finally lost its importance. The defensive weapons of the horsemen were gradually made lighter, and in the 16th century light cavalry carrying firearms moved to the forefront. At the same time the tactics of cavalry combat changed; the depth of the deployed cavalry formation increased to eight, ten, or more ranks, and the attack in mounted formation and with silent weapons was abandoned; instead the ranks fired from the horse and moved up in turns from the depth of the battle formation. All this deprived the cavalry of maneuverability and capability for rapid strikes.

In the late 16th century a new and lighter type of heavy cavalry was created, the cuirassiers, who carried broad swords and pistols and wore cuirasses and helmets. The dragoons, which appeared at the same time, were armed with muskets and were originally a mounted infantry. In the Thirty Years’ War (1618–), Gustavus II Adolphus reduced the depth of the deployed cavalry formation in the Swedish Army to three ranks and revived shock tactics. The Swedish cavalry once more attacked on horse at a rapid gait and maneuvered on the battlefield, and the dragoons, trained for action on horse and on foot, became the main type of cavalry. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Western European states had three types of cavalry, including heavy cavalry—the cuirassiers; medium cavalry—the dragoons, carabineers, and mounted grenadiers; and light cavalry—the hussars, uhlans, and light cavalry regiments. In most states the cavalry made up one-half of the army; in France the cavalry was even 1 Vi times larger than the infantry. Until the 18th century the cavalry of Western European armies (except for the Swedish Army) continued to fire from horseback and move at a slow gait.

With the formation of the centralized Russian state in the second half of the 15th century, a large cavalry composed of landed gentry was created; in the second half of the 16th century this cavalry numbered between 150, 000 and 200, 000 men. In the 1630’s the gentry cavalry began to be gradually replaced by cavalry regiments organized in the new way, of which there were 25 in 1681 (reiter and dragoon regiments). The cossack cavalry began to play an important role in the Russian Army in the 16th century. In the course of the military reforms of Peter I in the early 18th century a regular dragoon-type cavalry was created (40 dragoon regiments, including five garrison regiments); for the first time in history the cavalry was armed with horse artillery (two three-pound guns per regiment). The chief combat technique of the Russian cavalry was the mounted attack followed by a strike with silent weapons. Peter I used the cavalry widely for independent action (the battle at Kalisz in 1706 and the employment of the flying corps—the corps volant —in 1708). The battle at Lesnaia (1708) and the battle at Poltava (1709) set high standards for the combat application of the cavalry. A. D. Menshikov, an associate of Peter I who was appointed commander of the Russian cavalry in 1706, was a talented leader of the cavalry.

In the 1730’s imitation of the Austro-Prussian systems and excessive enthusiasm for firing from horseback made the cavalry lose its ability for organized mounted action and for strikes with silent weapons. In this period in the Russian Army a heavy cavalry was created (ten cuirassier regiments). The new cavalry regulations introduced in 1755 restored to a large extent the Petrine traditions of the combat use of the cavalry. In the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) the Russian cavalry proved a worthy opponent of the strong Prussian cavalry, which had been reorganized by Frederick II. In his reign the cavalry, which had a privileged status, was recruited only from Prussian landholders and constituted from 25 to 35 percent of the Prussian Army. All types of cavalry were equally trained for action on horse and on foot; to increase the speed of the attack the three-rank-formation was replaced by the two-rank deployed formation. The Prussian cavalry attained high combat qualities under the leadership of the prominent cavalry generals F. W. von Seydlitz and H. J. von Zieten.

Between 1760 and 1790 the number of heavy cuirassier regiments in the Russian Army was reduced, the number of medium and light cavalry regiments (carabineer, mounted grenadier, hussar, and light horse regiments) was increased, and combat training was improved. The combat application of the cavalry was improved under the leadership of P. A. Rumiantse and A. V. Suvorov. In 1774, Rumiantsev introduced the two-rank deployed formation and prohibited firing in mounted formation. Under Paul I (1796–1801) the size of the heavy cavalry was increased in the Russian cavalry. The regulations of 1796 officially introduced the two-rank deployed formation and the march column “by four,” which had actually been used already in the Russian cavalry.

The French cavalry of the Napoleonic wars was a formidable fighting force. It was divided into the heavy cavalry (cuirassiers), medium cavalry (dragoons), and light cavalry (hussars, mounted chasseurs, and uhlans). The large tactical units were the brigades, divisions (composed of two brigades), and, from 1804, cavalry corps. Napoleon divided the cavalry into strategic (reserve) cavalry and tactical cavalry, which carried out missions for the infantry. In 1812 four cavalry corps (about 40, 000 men) of the reserve (strategic) cavalry were formed. The two-rank deployed formation and the column were used in combat. Big columns were employed for the decisive strike. During massed attacks the cavalry usually suffered enormous losses and was not always successful (Borodino, Leipzig, Waterloo).

In the Russian Army in 1806 combined infantry and cavalry divisions were created, and in 1812 there were introduced cavalry divisions composed of three brigades each and cavalry corps composed of two divisions each. Besides the regular cavalry there was also the cossack cavalry. The new cavalry regulations of 1812 introduced cavalry march formations that later became traditional: “by six” “by three,” “by rows” (by two), and “by one”; the combat formation was based on two or more lines, and the squadrons of each line were placed in a two-rank deployed formation. In 1812 the whole cavalry, including the dragoons, fought only on horse. In the Patriotic War of 1812 the Russian cavalry furnished many outstanding examples of effective action and played a great role in the defeat of Napoleon’s army. After 1812 the Russian cavalry received only a drill field and parade training, and its combat efficiency declined.

In the Crimean War (1853–56) and in the war of Austria, Italy, and France of 1859 the cavalry of all the armies was used without taking into consideration the use of rifled weapons and new combat conditions; it was ineffective and suffered great losses, giving rise to doubts concerning the value of the cavalry as an independent combat arm. But the Civil War in the USA (1861–65) convincingly demonstrated that large masses of cavalry could be effectively used for strategic action in deep raids at the rear and over the communication lines of the enemy. In the subsequent wars of the second half of the 19th century the cavalry was ineffective because no place had been found for it in modern combat.

By the beginning of World War I (1914–18) the cavalry made up from 8 to 10 percent of the armies in the European states; it was considered very important, but there were different views on the combat application of the cavalry; in Germany it was assigned an operational role and in France and other states, a merely tactical role. In Russia the cavalry was envisioned as having operational and tactical applications. In all armies the mounted formation was considered the chief method of the cavalry. The cavalry was divided into strategic (army) and tactical (divisional) cavalry. Strategic cavalry was composed of large cavalry units on a division level (divisions and detached brigades); a cavalry division had two or three brigades (with two regiments per brigade and from four to six squadrons per regiment); it was armed with artillery and machine guns. In the beginning of the war many German and French cavalry divisions were merged into cavalry corps. In Russia seven cavalry corps were formed only in 1916; before that time cavalry units were merged into temporary detachments. In the new conditions of World War I, with the great development of various types of military technology, mounted attacks became very ineffective and entailed enormous losses of men and horses. In the maneuvering period of the war (on the Western Front until late 1914, on the Eastern Front until October 1915) the cavalry was used mainly to fulfill operational missions. In the positional period of the war the cavalry units of the belligerent parties were withdrawn to the rear and used essentially as infantry. Although the Russian cavalry was numerically large and well trained, it did not play any substantial role in the war because the Russian command refused to concentrate large cavalry masses on the major operational axes and because it had no gifted cavalry commanders. After World War I mechanization and motorization led to a numerical decline of the cavalry in foreign armies, and by the late 1930’s in most of the big capitalist states it was virtually abolished. By World War II (1939^5) only a few countries retained the cavalry (Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Yugoslavia).

The formation of the Soviet cavalry began with the establishment of the regular Red Army in January 1918. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army took over only three cavalry regiments from the demobilized old Russian Army. The formation of the cavalry was a very difficult matter. The majority of the cossacks were in the White Guard camp; the Ukraine and the southern and southeastern regions of Russia, which had supplied the bulk of cavalrymen and riding horses, were occupied by the interventionists or held by the White Guard; and there was a shortage of horse cavalry equipment, weapons, and experienced commanders.

The first large regular cavalry unit of the Red Army was the Moscow Cavalry Division; formed in August 1918 in the Moscow Military District, it was named the First Cavalry Division in March 1919. In addition, cavalry units on a division level and individual horse cavalry regiments and detachments were created at the front from partisan detachments and units of tactical cavalry. The 1st Composite Cavalry Division was formed in the Don District in November 1918 (renamed the 4th Cavalry Division in March 1919). In January 1919 the regular cavalry incorporated the 1st Cavalry Division of the Stavropol’ partisans, which was formed in December 1918 (renamed the 6th Cavalry Division in March 1919). By the middle of 1919 the Red Army had five cavalry divisions (the 1st, 4th, 6th, 3rd Turkestan, and the 7th divisions); each division had six regiments with four squadrons in each. In the latter half of the 1919 individual cavalry divisions began to be consolidated into cavalry corps, thereby creating conditions for a concentrated employment of the strategic (army) cavalry. In June 1919 the 4th and 6th Cavalry divisions were consolidated into the First Horse Cavalry Corps under the command of S. M. Budennyi, and in September 1919 the Composite Cavalry Corps was formed under the command of B. M. Dumenko, composed of the 1st Partisan, the 2nd Mountaineer, and the 3rd Don Cavalry brigades.

The combat action in 1919 on the Southern Front against Denikin, who had large masses of horse cavalry, made it necessary to create a more powerful strategic formation and operational organization of the cavalry that would not be inferior to the enemy’s. In November 1919 the First Horse Cavalry Corps was expanded into the First Horse Cavalry Army under the command of S. M. Budennyi; the army included the 4th, 6th, and 11th and from April 1920 also the 14th Cavalry divisions. By late 1919 the effective strength for combat of the Red Army included a total of 15 cavalry divisions. By this time the Soviet cavalry equaled the enemy’s cavalry in strength. The Red Army cavalry units on division level and higher played a prominent role in the operations to defeat Denikin’s and Kolchak’s armies from late 1919 to early 1920, as well as in those against the troops of bourgeois and landlord Poland.

As the White Guard and interventionists were being driven out of the country, the possibility of forming a strategic cavalry greatly increased, and in 1920 ten cavalry divisions were again formed and established on the basis of cavalry brigades; these divisions became part of corps under the command of G. D. Gai, N. D. Kashirin, V. M. Primakov, and others. The Second Horse Cavalry Army was formed in July 1920 under the command of O. I. Gorodovikov (from September, F. K. Mironov), and was composed of the 2nd Blinov, 16th, 20th, and 21st Cavalry divisions; it played a great role in defeating Wrangel’s troops in Northern Tavriia and the Crimea. The horse cavalry armies, composed of cavalry divisions, had machine guns mounted on horse-drawn vehicles (tachanka), artillery, armored car detachments, aviation, and armored trains; two or three rifle divisions were temporarily attached to them. By late 1920 the strategic cavalry was made up of 27 cavalry divisions, not counting detached cavalry brigades.

The combat importance of the cavalry greatly increased during the Civil War and military intervention (1918–20). This was brought about because of the amount of maneuvering necessary in the war and because the theaters of operation were vast with long fronts where the density of troops was insufficient. Under these conditions the cavalry took full advantage of its mobility and the element of surprise. The main method of fulfilling tactical combat missions was cavalry action in mounted formation. In the operations in the Northern Caucasus in February and March 1920 the size of the Soviet cavalry was 50 percent of the size of the infantry, and the cavalry of the Whites reached 110 percent of the size of the infantry. In the operations against Wrangel’s troops in October and November 1920 the cavalry made up 33 percent of Soviet troops and 50 percent of Wrangel’s troops. On the axis of the main thrusts the cavalry forces were equal. The concentration of large cavalry forces on the major operational axes by the two belligerent sides turned some operations of the Civil War into battles of masses of cavalry supported by the infantry. Once again in history mass mounted attacks by cavalry would be used (the battles at Egorlykskaia in February 1920, at Nikopol’ in August, and at Genichesk in October 1920), as well as deep raids along the enemy rear. After the Civil War the Soviet cavalry played a great role in the struggle against the Basmachi in Middle Asia and against banditry in the Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus.

In the period of socialist construction the Soviet cavalry was armed with new combat materiel. The cavalry was designed as a mobile combat arm for mass action at the disposal of the front command. But the combat experience of early World War II (1939–) and the use of large tank forces and aviation made the Soviet command change its opinions concerning the combat use of the cavalry and reduce it numerically. The number of cavalry divisions was reduced from 32 in 1939 to 13 in 1941 (including four mountain cavalry divisions).

At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) large cavalry units deployed at the southwestern and western borders (a total of seven divisions) waged combat while covering the retreat of the combined arms units. The Soviet command began forming new cavalry divisions in the summer of 1941, and 83 light cavalry divisions were additionally set up in late 1941. In the first few months of the war serious shortcomings became apparent in the combat use of the cavalry: the principle of its employment in mass was violated, and the cavalry was often used for attacks on strongly fortified lines and populated areas. In December 1941 a directive of the Supreme Headquarters ordered the consolidation of cavalry divisions into cavalry corps and prohibited the breaking up of cavalry corps that were subordinate to a front command and not an army command, as well as those that were given the mission (jointly with tank and mechanized troops) to exploit the success of a breakthrough of the defense, to pursue a retreating enemy, and to combat its operational reserves. In defensive operations the cavalry formed the maneuverable reserve of the fronts.

Fifteen cavalry divisions fought in the battle of Moscow of 1941^2; in the fierce battles at Moscow General P. A. Belov’s First Guards Cavalry Corps and General L. M. Dovator’s Second Guards Cavalry Corps won special distinction. Among the units that fought in the battle of Stalingrad of 1942– were III Guards Cavalry Corps of General I. A. Pliev (from Dec. 17, 1942, General N. S. Oslikovskii), General Borisov’s VIII (later the VII Guards) Cavalry Corps, and General T. T. Shapkin’s IV Cavalry Corps.

When the Soviet Army passed to broad offensive actions in 1943, the cavalry was reorganized; a commander of the cavalry was appointed (Marshal of the Soviet Union S. M. Budennyi), a cavalry staff was formed (Chief of Staff General V. T. Obu-khov, then General P. S. Karpachev); light divisions were abolished, divisions were enlarged and their firepower increased, and the antitank weapons of the cavalry corps were reinforced. After the reorganization the Soviet Army had eight cavalry corps, three divisions to a corps, including seven guards corps in the army in the field, and three detached cavalry divisions (in Trans-baikalia and in the Far East). One cavalry corps was stationed in Iran.

In 1943 the cavalry played an important role in the battle for the Caucasus (General N. Ia. Kirichenko’s IV Guards Kuban Cavalry Corps and General A. G. Selivanov’s V Guards Don Cavalry Corps), in the battle of Kursk of 1943, and in the liberation of the Left-bank Ukraine (General V. V. Kriukov’s II Guards Cavalry Corps). The VII Guards Cavalry Corps fought in the battle for the Dnieper in late September; it crossed the Dnieper River in force near Chernigov and seized a base of operations on the opposite bank.

While the reinforced cavalry corps were used in offensives for the exploitation of a success in the breakthrough of a defense, in 1943 cavalry corps began to be consolidated into temporary horse cavalry-mechanized groups (KMG) composed of one or two cavalry corps and one tank or mechanized corps; they were used for the same purposes. Highly effective actions of the KMG include that of General Kirichenko in the Donbas Offensive Operation of 1943, of General Pliev in the Bereznegovatoe-Snigirevka operation of 1944 and in the Odessa Operation of 1944, of Generals Oslikovskii and Pliev in the exploitation of success in the Byelorussian Operation of 1944, of General V. K.Baranov in the L’vov-Sandomir Operation of 1944, and of General S. I. Gorshkov in the Ia§y-Kishenev Operation of 1944. Anorganic KMG formed in late 1944 under the command of General Pliev (subsequently the 1st Guard KMG) served in combat for the liberation of Rumania and Hungary. The combat action of the Soviet-Mongolian KMG on the Transbaikal Front in August 1945 contributed to the defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army in the Far East.

The firepower of the troops, which increased during the Great Patriotic War, limited the tactical use of the cavalry to infantry combat. The cavalry usually made contact with the enemy in mounted formation; upon reaching the previously planned line, the cavalry unit would dismount and deploy in battle formation. When conditons were favorable the cavalry sometimes used mounted attacks, especially if the enemy had not managed to consolidate its position or organize a system of fire.

To reduce the danger of attack by enemy aviation, cavalry units marched at night, in snowstorms or in fog, and maneuvered off the roads. The rank of guards unit was conferred on all cavalry corps of the army in the field for their high level of combat skill, bravery, and daring. The title of Hero of the Soviet Union was conferred on many cavalrymen, and orders and medals were awarded to tens of thousands of them.

After the Great Patriotic War the cavalry was greatly reduced in size. In the mid-1950’s, because of the development of weapons of mass destruction and of the total motorization of the army, the cavalry ceased to exist as a combat arm and the cavalry units were disbanded.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
While these messages were being read out to the assembled troopers, a Light Horseman from one of the outposts came at a gallop shouting and waving as he rode into the assembly.