Divisional Cavalry Regiments

An infantry division requires many additional units to its infantry battalions, in order to function and fight effectively. For armies based on a British pattern, such as the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the world wars, an infantry division consisted of three infantry brigades, three artillery regiments, and armoured or cavalry units (“cavalry” did not necessarily mean on horseback, it also applied to units equipped with vehicles). A divisional cavalry regiment’s role was to carry out reconnaissance, conduct surveillance, and to observe enemy location and movement. The unit operated to the front and on the edge of the main force, acting as the commander’s “eyes and ears”.

The task of divisional cavalry regiment was carried out by mounted cavalry or light horse units. As armies became mechanised, however, the task was carried out by units using light tanks and scout cars. When the Second AIF was raised, each of its infantry divisions included a mobile reconnaissance unit, initially called divisional reconnaissance regiments and later redesignated as divisional cavalry regiments.

A regiment’s war establishment consisted of 28 light tanks, 44 machine-gun carriers, and some 450 personnel. But the shortage of armoured vehicles in Australia at the start of the war meant that each regiment was equipped with only a few vehicles before being deployed to the Middle East.

When the 8th Division was sent to Singapore and Malaya, it was deployed without its divisional cavalry regiment, as its commander thought it would not be required in the jungle. During the Pacific war, divisional cavalry regiments were reorganised into cavalry (commando) regiments. They lost their vehicles and instead each became the administrative headquarters for three cavalry (commando) squadrons.