Tuesday’s Horse has been posting on the subject of war horses on Memorial Day since our earliest years.
This year we came across a use of ‘horses’ in WW2 we had not seen before. These were not live horses but constructed horses — or ‘dummy’ horses. Following that is a section entitled ‘counting the dead’. We conclude with a list of our top five Memorial Day posts.
- Horse carcasses were a common feature at the front, and were sometimes used by soldiers as impromptu barriers. Thus the French came up with a cunning plan — why not use hollowed-out dummy horses as observation posts? They made these dummies out of papier-mâché and built them large enough for a man to crawl inside and poke a gun through. A telephone wire was even run up from inside the horse back to the trenches so the horse lodger could report back on German movements.
- Though the Germans soon twigged what was afoot when a French sniper was spotted climbing out of a horse, the method grew in popularity and was a regular feature on the battlefield for the duration of the war.
Counting the dead
Seeing the pitiful eyes of men foredone,
Or horses shot, too tired merely to stir,
Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.
From ‘Pain’ by Ivor Gurney
- Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions.
- In a single day during the Battle of Verdun in 1916, 7,000 horses were killed by long-range shelling on both sides, including 97 killed by single shots from a French naval gun.
- Losses were particularly heavy among Clydesdale horses, who were used to haul guns.
- Britain lost over 484,000 horses — one horse for every two men.
- Fearing their horses would face terrifying conditions at war, some owners took the drastic measure of humanely putting their animals down before an army could seize them.
- In the Second World War, by 1939 the German Reich possessed 3,800,000 horses while 885,000 were initially called to the Wehrmacht as saddle, draft, and pack animals. Of these, 435,000 horses were captured from the USSR, France, and Poland. Additional horses were purchased from Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Ireland.
- Despite increasing mechanisation, animals were still widely used during WW2 by forces on both sides. Britain – the first nation to motorise its army – still had about 200,000 animals in service, while the US military used 14,000 mules in Italy alone. The German Army lost more than 179,000 horses in two months on the Eastern Front.
- While the use of animals in the front line is now less common, animals continue to suffer in conflicts today. In Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, there have been numerous incidents of animal-borne bomb attacks, in which insurgents have attached explosive devices to donkeys and horses in order to target crowded areas and convoys. See source above.
- Wars have also had damaging consequences for animals long after the final shots have been fired. In the 20 years following the Vietnam War, about 40,000 animals were estimated to have been killed by landmines.
Top five posts
• Remembering the War Horses, May 27, 2019 »
• Memorial Day — Remembering War Horses in pictures, May 29, 2017 »
• Remembering the Horses of War, May 25, 2008 »
• 5,000 Years of War Horses, January 14, 2012
• What a Veteran: Korean War Horse Sgt Reckless, TH, November 11, 2013 »
• Sgt Reckless: A Great American Hero, TH June 26, 2011 »
• Sergeant Reckless: Korean War Horse Served with Valor, BloodHorse Magazine, May 25, 2020 »