Horses in wartime Part 2: Some aspects of the use of horses and other Equidae, mainly mules, in Worldwar I and II

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J. De Smet

Published Jun 30, 2021


Although cavalry attacks were no longer possible after the introduction of fire arms, horses were still important in warfare during World War I and even II. Draught horses and interspecies cross breeds, mainly mules, continued to be used for logistic purposes, and even in front lines to move heavy guns to trenches. Although troops were well trained in peace time in the daily care of horses, infectious diseases such as scabies (scab), difficult to treat, caused heavy losses, as did other infections, malnutrition, exhaustion and wounds. The importance of disinfection and aseptic surgical techniques was recognized, but the newly introduced antibiotic treatments were not yet available or scarce. From 1914 to 1918 on, over eight million equids, mainly in the artillery units, died on het Western Front. British troops lossed about 480.000 animals: ‘one horse for every two man’. In the Second World War horses were exclusively used for logistic purposes, but they had to travel over long distances, and were inadequately fed and handled. Possibly because of better veterinary care, mortality was not as high as during the First World War, but was still considerable. The German armies for instance, lost 1,500,00 to 1,750,000 on a total of 2,500,000 to 2,750,000. Also during wartime, initiatives to promote better treatment of animals were taken, resulting in flourishing societies for protecting animals, such as The Blue Cross. A few monuments were erected in memory of animal war victims.

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