The Use of Horses and Mules in Modern Warfare
By CAPTAIN Louis B. Gerow, Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review – November-December 1928
SUCH tremendous strides have been made in the manufacture and utilization of mechanical means, including transport, as exemplified by the mechanization and motorization programs adopted by industry and as contemplated by the War Department, that one wonders, in this “Motor Age,” whether the horse, as well as his hybrid half-brother, the mule, is not in the very near future to be relegated to an inactive status and the word “obsolete” placed opposite his name on the supply list. A study of animal requirements will present quite a different picture.
Contrary to the general belief the motor has not replaced the horse in war. The 1921 Tables of Organization prescribe strengths, in men and animals, for units shown as follows:
|Officers and men||Animals|
|Infantry Division (War Strength)||10,997||6,992|
|Cavalry Division (War Strength)||7,463||9,617|
|Army Corps (War Strength)||83,850||22,706|
|Field Army (War Strength)||325,075||101,482|
The proportion of animals to men is therefore:
|Infantry Division||1 animal to every 2.86 men|
|Cavalry Division||1.28 animals to each man|
|*Army Corps||1 animal to every 3.69 men|
|Field Army||1 animal to every 3.20 men|
*In the Army Corps the strength of the Corps Artillery is 8,437 men, the Anti-aircraft Artillery, 1,514 men and the Corps Air Service, 1,655 men; a total of 11,608 men in units provided exclusively with mechanical transport.
The proportion of animals to men during the Civil War was 1 animal to every 3.75 men, while in the World War approximately 1 animal to every 4 men was required.
Development of modern war machines and impedimenta has advanced in direct ratio to the development in mechanical transport requiring its full share of the cargo space of these vehicles. Thus we see that the animal drawn transport has been advanced along the lines of supply to the combat zone where it is used as a final connecting link with the actual fighting troops, often over country where motor vehicles cannot go-where roads are torn up and under shell fire.
The dependability of the animal is its greatest asset and it is still the most sure and reliable means of transportation. We now find it in the advance area hauling ammunition, machine guns, trench mortars, carts, rolling kitchens, ambulances, combat wagons, etc., to the fighting front where its life is short and its work of the most arduous and dangerous nature.
Great Britain in the World War, operating over many fronts, under many and varied conditions, had ample opportunity of determining the type of transportation best adapted to each, and it is interesting to note some observations made in the “Official History of the War-Veterinary Services (British)” which I take the liberty of quoting:
Those who witnessed and depended for their sustenance and means of defense upon the work of pack animals in bringing up food and ammunition through constantly shelled, muddy ground, which was impassable for wheeled transport, will agree that animals are necessary for war-like purposes. They will say that it is not easy to imagine any form of transportation which, in similar circumstances, could replace that of pack mules and cobs. Similarly, in mountain warfare, the pack animal is essential.
Motor transport has much to do with the success of the British military operations in Egypt, but the bulk of those operations would have been impossible without camels, horses, mules and donkeys.
In Mesopotamia at certain seasons motor transport had entirely to give way to animal transport, and here undoubtedly the mule and the despised ox saved the situation.
In Egypt and Palestine, 1917, the British Expeditionary Forces were more than usually dependent on horses, mules and camels for fighting and transport duties.
Apropos of the operations of the British Forces in the Balkans where the country is mountainous and most of the gun positions were on hill tops and the forward slopes of the hills, only pack transport could reach them-gun positions in the river valley’s were largely reached by pack transport as the deep sand made the passage of wheel transport difficult.
Animal requirements in a war of movement are always greater than in a war of position, and it is an established fact that the shortage of horses, artillery and transport, seriously hampered the successful and expeditious execution of operations plans in the World War on the western front. The demand for cavalry was ever constant, and high commanders on both sides have testified that they were seriously handicapped by the lack of cavalry and that in the future wars this arm will be as important as in the past.
General Allenby’s campaign in Egypt was undoubtedly made successful by the employment of cavalry, which operated under climatic and field conditions considered almost impossible for man or beast.
As a student of military history and as an authority on military affairs and requirements, Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord, United States Army, retired, holds a conspicuous place. That General Harbord feels that the horse and mule are indispensable in war is indicated by his talk delivered over radio at New York City in 1926, part of which is quoted:
We have the manpower for defense; and it can be mobilized and trained with fair speed when the occasion demands. Of this the World War furnished proof.
We are the greatest of the industrial nations. We can produce more rapidly than any other country the great quantities of mechanical devices and munitions that are necessary to war. Our industrial preparedness is being well organized.
But there are many things in war that cannot be done by men or machines, and that only animals can do. It takes several years to raise horses to the age at which they are suitable for hard work, and even then the weedy, unsound and weak ones cannot stand military usage. If the supply of well-bred, fit animals is not habitually kept up in time of peace, one of the most important pillars of the nation’s structure of defense will be missing when, unhappily, we are again forced to war.
It is from my experience as a soldier, and particularly from my experience and observation of conditions of war as we lived them in 1917 and 1913, that I wish to emphasize to you this national need.
Many people-even many soldiers whose experience of war has been more or less narrow and who have seen only the part played by their own arm or service, involving use of tanks, airplanes or motor trucks-have the idea that war can be fought today with mechanical transport only, and without the aid of our four-footed friends. But I will tell you that it cannot be done. The contrary, however, is sometimes true. Under some circumstances, quite effective war can be waged without mechanical transport and with the aid of animals alone, as witness the opposition which the Rifflan tribesmen are today giving one of the most powerful military nations of the world.
In the supply of an army in the field, ships and trains bring up rations ammunition and the necessary multitude of supplies of all kinds from the home country to the depots of the theater of operations. Great convoys of motor trucks move these supplies from the depots, as far forward as the good roads required for their operation permit, to dumps or distributing points in the combat zone. There the absolute reliability of mechanical transport ceases; but the soldier in the fighting line must not suffer any interruption in the arrival of his food and ammunition. So it is there, as the last link of the service of supply, in the very area swept by enemy guns, that we find it necessary’ to have great quantities of animal-drawn transportation.
In this area, close behind the lines, the roads may have great shell craters in them and detours must frequently be made through the soft ground on the sides. Delivery must often be made by byroads and paths to units deployed in the hills and mountains off the main roads. In winter, as in France and Belgium in 1917-1918, the roads are mires of mud cut to pieces by traffic of long columns and with no chance of repair; or there are unbridged streams to be crossed; or there is zero weather and the man in the trenches is poorly consoled for the lack of a day’s food by the thought that the carburetor on company ration truck goes out of action in the cold. So from the division forward, hard experience has taught us to stick to animal-drawn transportation for supply.
Machine guns in battle are not placed near the broad highways as a rule, but rather are concealed in the rocky ravines, in farmyards and woods. It is only the horse or mule that can guarantee to take the guns quietly and surely into such positions, many of which are difficult even for men to reach without the use of their hands.
Divisional artillery, too, must be able to emplace off the roads. It must be able to get through mud and water with the same degree of certainty as the infantryman whom it supports. It frequently goes in position far forward in the combat zone at night when the noise of tractors would betray its presence. It must be able, when occasion demands, to march economically at the slow rate of the infantry, 2 1/2 miles per hour. Motors cannot meet these specifications, and the demand is for horses.
Many people-again many soldiers, judging war from the standpoint of their own more or less restricted participation, have the impression that the day of cavalry in war has passed; that the airplane, the machine gun and the barbed wire have banished it from the theater of operations. Nothing could be farther from the fact.
It is true that the airplane has relieved cavalry from much of the long-distance reconnaissance which formerly only cavalry could do. In this way, it assists the cavalry by allowing the latter to be concentrated on its more important missions of close reconnaissance and participation in the battle.
Airplane reconnaissance is not very effective at night or in rainy, foggy weather. Enemy air force has an insistent way of preventing leisurely or continued observation. The airplane must come down to the shelter of its own army when it runs out of gas, so it is not capable of maintaining constant observation. The airplane cannot bring in negative information, which is often of as much value as positive information. For example, in scanning a large wooded area for the enemy the aviator can only say, “I did not see the enemy”; cavalry, on the other hand, may well bring the report, “We have been through the woods and the enemy is not there.” Both the cavalry and the air service of an army are needed for reconnaissance, and one complements the work of the other.
Cavalry participates in the battle today, as in years gone by, on that part of the field which affords most opportunity for its primary characteristic, its ability to move rapidly when close to the enemy, and across any kind of ground. Rapid movement in war usually finds its place on the flanks of the battle line.
In the days of Grant and Lee, of Sheridan and Jeb Stuart, brigades and divisions of cavalry were employed on the flanks of armies of a few thousand men deployed and fighting on fronts of a few miles. In the World War we saw really an army of cavalry operating on the flank of the Allied battle line in a war of movement that extended from Roumania to the Suez Canal. Every Allied army commander on the western front wished for cavalry in those days between July 18 and November 11,1918. On the brown Mesopotamian plains where the wars of mankind began, Allenby’s cavalry demonstrated that mounted operations on a large scale are still in the war picture. The picture has changed only in scale arid war demands more cavalry than ever. Cavalry means horses in great quantities
Not only does the horse occupy a position in all theaters and phases of war, silently and faithfully performing his many duties, at times enduring untold hardships and sufferings without complaint or hope of reward, but occupies a place in the hearts of the men with whom he serves that can never be replaced.