by Dick Martin
If you are lover of animals, especially horses, the following passage in the book I am currently reading “Fire and Steel” by Peter Caddick-Adams will probably bring a tear to your eye. It is a book that chronicles the end of WW2 in Europe. On page 159, he writes, “References to horses are often overlooked in accounts by both sides, where the presence of armor tends to blind both the writer and reader. For example, in the earlier Herbstnebel Ardennes offensive, the Wehrmacht had deployed 50,000 horses, a ratio of at least fifty equines for every panzer.”
This may be surprising but 80% of the WWII German Army was horse drawn. Despite all the propaganda about Blitzkrieg, formidable German R&D, industrial design and production, the day-to-day mechanics of that fighting force involved an average of 1.1 million horses throughout the war. Of the 322 German divisions in the middle of the war (1943), only 52 were armored or motorized. One can be forgiven for thinking that a blitzkrieg army would be mostly tank driven. Can you imagine what it would take to feed 50,000 horses or more, depending on the size of the unit? The allies, by comparison, enjoyed the strategic advantage of the USA’s ability to mass produce motorized vehicles with low unit cost and rapid quantity production coupled with relatively easy access to fuel worldwide.
The great bulk of the German combat strength, the old-type infantry marched to battle on foot with their weapons and supply trains propelled almost entirely by four-legged horsepower. The ratio was even greater in these spring battles, where with little fuel, military units (including the SS) relied more than ever on quadrupeds to tow their field artillery, ammunition, and numerous wagons full of supplies and equipment around the battlefield.
A Marne Division officer recorded his thoughts on coming across a German horse-drawn column:
“ ‘As far as we can see, the road is cluttered with shattered, twisted cars, trucks and wagons. Hundreds of horses have been caught in the barrage. They look at us with puzzled, unblaming eyes, whinnying softly as their torn flesh wait for life to drain from it. We are used to the sight of dead and wounded men, but these shuddering animals affect us strangely.’ His GI buddy added, ‘I’ve known horses all my life, and there’s not one dirty, mean thing about them. Makes you ashamed to belong to the human race.’ “