Remount in Italy
The Quartermaster Review – March/April 1946
The terrain of Italy made the military deployment of animals necessary. The Germans for many years used the horse successfully in modern warfare. An example of the number used is illustrated by the table of organization for a single German Infantry Division, which calls for 4,000 animals. Horses were used not necessarily because of a shortage of gasoline and oil, as some mechanized experts would like to have us believe, but because the horse is the logical source of power and means of transportation under certain circumstances unfavorable to motorized equipment. All armies have used the horse for reconnaissance, mounted infantry, cavalry, and horse-drawn artillery, and mules for the packing of food, ammunition, and guns. Of the men and animals connected with the last-mentioned category this narrative is written.
In October 1943 the 5th Army began to recruit men and animals for use in the mountainous campaign of Italy. The first animals, both horses and mules, were procured locally from civilians in that part of the Boot and Sicily already liberated by the Allies. Later the program included procurement from the islands of Sardinia and Corsica; from French North Africa as reimbursement in kind for animals received by the French under lend-lease during the winter of 1943-44; and from the British Near East under reverse lend-lease. Horses to equip the 10th Mountain Division were later procured from the mainland of France and T-E mules for the same unit from the United States. From the beginning of this animal program until VE-day, approximately 15,000 animals were received and processed, and 11,000 issued to using forces by the Quartermaster Remount Service in Italy.
The men selected for Animal Remount Service were chosen from various units and replacement depots on the basis of experience with animals, although, until March 1944, roughly 50 per cent of the personnel were inexperienced and had to be trained on the job by the other qualified 50 per cent.
Lt. Col. Russel V. D. Janzan activated and became Chief of the Remount Service in Italy on October 23,1943. He established his headquarters in Naples, with his main station at Persano. The original organization included two remount stations, which were located at Persano and Santa Maria Capua Vetera. The Persano Station was commanded by Colonel Janzan until the summer of 1944, when he was succeeded by Major Welden Slisher. The station at Santa Maria was commanded by Lt. Col. Kenneth F. Lafayette, who later became Chief of Remount Service, which included the 6742nd and 2610th Quartermaster Remount Depots (Ovhd).
In December 1943 Lt. Col. Sebe J. Houghton, Jr., succeeded Colonel Janzan as Chief of Remount, with headquarters in Naples. He ordered establishment of a third station at Bagnoli, just north of Naples, at a race track called Hippodromo, Agnano.
In June 1944 the Santa Maria Station was moved to Capanello Hippodromo on the southern outskirts of Rome, in an effort to keep up with the advancing 5th Army, and later to Grosseto for the same reason. Because this site was one of the three large remount establishments of the Italian Government, it was selected as the semi-permanent rear installation of the United States Remount. It is a large farm of approximately 12,000 acres and has a beautiful setting in a valley dotted with huge shade trees. This station became the largest holding, reconditioning, and recuperating remount station for American animals in Italy. At one time there were approximately 4,000 mules at the Grosseto Station.
The Remount Service in Italy was organized and functioned without the guidance of War Department Tables of Organization and Equipment or established experiences of predecessors. A serious hindrance was the lack of animal equipment. It was May 1944 before the first veterinary and animal equipment, consisting of miscellaneous medicines, nails, shoes, and clipping machines, arrived from the United States. As a result of this delay there was gradually assembled a weird assortment of Italian, French, English, German, and American tack and gear.
In considering exceptional performance of duty under adverse circumstances the Veterinarians assigned to Remount certainly come in for their share of honors. They were confronted with such problems as untrained assistants, lack of special medicines, and lack of instruments. Through their untiring efforts enlisted assistants were supervised and trained to competency, and supplies were procured locally by gleaning and searching all available sources. The fact that not one epidemic ever hit the Remount herds, when the variable sources of the stock is considered, is evidence enough of the great work done by the Veterinarians.
All animals purchased by the Remount Service from local sources were requisitioned. Requisitioning is a very simple process for the Army. It. works as follows: a suitable animal, saddle; or any other item needed by the Army is located and the owner notified that the Army desires to buy it. A purchasing and contracting officer or AMG official sets the price and the deal is consummated. The Italian always set a much higher price than he expected to get. On one occasion an Italian brought a Pariani saddle and bridle to the stable one day and offered it for sale at L. 18,000 ($180). The final transaction netted him $100, and he was no former Fascist, either. The Army paid no more than the Italian Government paid for the same articles. Many good stories concerning these purchases went the rounds. One concerns a farmer who presented a slip of paper to an AMG official at Benevento which read: “Pay to the bearer $120 for one horse taken.” It was signed “Tom Mix.” AMG did not pay.
The purchase of animals was made on a set price scale. The first prices ranged from $80 to $150. Later the top limit was set at $250 for mules and $300 for horses. In the fall and winter of 1943-44 animals were scarce and a mule might be bought even though he could pack only one load of ammunition and then became unserviceable. When animals were no longer of service to the Army they were sold at auction. Later this policy was changed and civilians had to buy from ACC and the Italian Government on an equitable basis. The demand was always great, because if the animal could no longer work, his carcass brought a fortune on the black market.
The procurement of forage in Italy created another difficult problem. Until June 1944 there was no hay at all only tibben, which is chopped straw. After June 1944 prairie hay was usually available in sufficient quantities, but the quality was only mediocre and the price exorbitant. In March 1945 the situation was alleviated by shipments of sixty day forage supply from the United States for mules shipped to Italy for the 10th Mountain Infantry Division.
The Army has for a long time adhered closely to the rule of not buying white, gray, or other light-colored animals. Here it was necessary to buy all available animals, irrespective of color. These mules were called upon to pack rations to within a few hundred yards of the front and it was suicide to both men and animals to send a light colored animal forward. The krauts used to derive great pleasure from mortaring our pack trains. The Germans had advanced and retreated over every inch of ground that our troops were traversing for the first time, and Jerry had his mortars trained on trails likely to be used by our pack troops. It was up to the’ Remount Service to camouflage the light-colored mules sent up. Some of the famed Yankee ingenuity was mixed with potassium permanganate, and the result was a solution that, when sprayed on a gray mule, produced a “hintaed”. An animal so sprayed remained effectively discolored for thirty to sixty days, depending on whether the weather was damp or arid.
The Luftwaffe was still infrequently pounding Naples harbor in the spring of 1944. In march of that year the first shipment of 865 horses and mules came in from North Africa as part of the French repayment. It was important that they they be unloaded with a minimum delay and transshipped from the port area direct to Persano by rail. It was important because no ship captain relished the idea of playing clay-pigeon for Goering’s ace skeet-shooters. To speed up the process the stevedores we’re unloading two and three mules at one time in each cargo net. Handling the entire operation were about eight officers and men from the Bagnoli Remount Station. The animals had to be led from ship’s side to the railhead about mile away, and the only personnel available for this duty was inexperienced civilian port labor. As might have been expected, before the door of the last box-car closed, twenty-two hours after the operation began, mules were running loose all over the port, disgruntled Italians were deserting their jobs, and, to make the picture complete, just like clock-work the enemy planes made their regular harassing milk run about 2230 hours. Little difference did it make to the port boys that a net of mules was dangling in mid-air between the hold and the dock, because they were safe in the “ricovero”.
The most exciting experiences were connected with shipping horses and mules. Remount personnel loaded and unloaded animals into, and of of, trains, trucks, and ships. The absence of horse-vans made necessary to use 6×6 GMC GI trucks for hauling. High board frames did not always prevent the mules from jumping out, and they had to be roped and reloaded. A load for a GI truck consisted of six horses or mules. Quite often it was necessary to lead or drive herds of mules over long distances. This proved hazardous, due to the heavy traffic that is ever-present in the rear of any active theatre of war. It seems the irony of fate when a combat man, coming to the rear, is injured in a motor accident. However there are many instances of this misfortune. Heavy traffic, loose mules, and men riding horses on pavement proved constant headaches to the Army Safety Program.
Remount Station 5L81 was located at Barbarcina, a suburb of Pisa. The station was quartered in a former racing stable, with the men living in a fine brick building which they christened “Albergo Rimonte “-Remount Hotel. The Albergo was a veritable crossroads in Italy for all ex-cavalrymen, veterinarians, and horse-lovers in general. One could always get a hot meal, a bed, and a hot bath at the Albergo Rimonte.
Normally the Remount Service in the field is not concerned with animal breeding. However the Pisa Station was faced with maternity problems subsequent to the capture of a number of German mares by the 10th Mountain Division. The favorite pet of personnel and visitors at Pisa was a beautiful colt belonging to a dappled gray mare, which formerly spent her time pulling a Jerry field piece in a northerly direction prior to capture. The Germans have a benevolent habit of permitting the farmers to care for their animals when they are in semi-permanent bivouac, as they were in the more or less static period of warfare last spring north of the Arno River. Obviously the mare got in mixed company, as she foaled after she was captured.
It was interesting to see the variety of brands used in identifying animals which came from all parts of the world. The Germans used a hoof brand and the mules from the British Middle East had only a crow-foot. The British liked our Preston branding system so that they adopted a similar one for branding their animals on the off side of the neck.
The condition of the horses captured from the Germans was generally fair. Of the first captives, some came in with gaping shrapnel wounds, most were lousy, and some appeared to be suffering from malnutrition. The manes of the captured horses were not roached, and, unlike our Army, the Germans used many stallions for transportation as well as for drawing heavy artillery.
When our forces captured the Po Valley they discovered tens of thousands of riding and draft horses, and a negligible number of mules, running free. The Germans had been unable to get these across the Po River in the haste of chaotic retreat. Among these animals were some of the best German and Austrian stock, along with the best of the Italian breed, which had been procured as they were rolled back from Reggio and Salerno to the Po River. It was no trouble at all to walk into any field and select a perfectly matched team of dappled gray or chestnut draft horses. Also there were well conformed hunting and jumping types.
The main collection point for these animals, was San Martino De Spino, formerly an Italian Cavalry School. It was here that further evidence of Teuton cruelty was brought, to light, for among the animals collected at San Martino were some with their legs and hind quarters burned severely and, others with their faces and necks burned to a similar degree. This meant that the Germans, when they could not get their wagons across the Po, had set them afire without freeing either the animals drawing the vehicles or those tied to the rear and being led. These poor creatures were, of course, put out of their misery with the least delay by the U. S. Army Remount personnel.
Through the AMG, payment of all requisitioned items was settled. When the war was over, the AMG assumed the job of distributing all captured animals to the patriots that had helped to liberate Italy. Remount collected and held these animals and turned them over to AMG as dispositions were made. This proved to be a gigantic task because of the thousands of horses and mules that had been displaced with the German retreat towards the, Po River. In one compound near Bologna approximately two thousand captured animals were held for distribution to Italian farmers.
The Remount Service played a vital part in the success of the Allied armies in Italy. A quick glance at the North Appenines terrain is all that is required to realize the importance of the sure-footed,. long-eared kinsman of the horse in negotiating the treacherous mountain trails that lead to the fox-holes, the dugouts, and the gun emplacements. The following citation is a fitting tribute to the men who handled the mules that carried C rations and bullets to the men who won the war: “The 6742nd Quartermaster Remount Depot (Ovhd) is awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque for superior performance of duty under adverse conditions for the period October 1, 1944, to February 15, 1945. During this period it was the function of the Depot to supply 5th Army horse and mule units, both original issues and replacements of a quality capable of performing the burdensome task of packing supplies quickly and regularly. This meant the procuring, processing, and maintenance of a daily average of 1,304 animals for the entire period… Through the untiring and superior efforts of men and officers this mission was accomplished in a superior and efficient manner, irrespective of time, place, weather conditions, irregularities in schedules, mediocrity of original stock secured, and lack of previously trained personnel… The proficiency and professional skill, outstanding organizational abilities, and efficiency with which animals and administration were handled, reflect the highest tradition of the Service.”