FEI.org - Full Artice
9 November 2018
As we mark 100 years since the Armistice Day of November 11, 1918, we look back at the important role that horses and mules played during World War I…
The animals were used as the primary means of achieving military mobility during the First World War.
Mechanisation was in its infancy; so there were few trucks or lorries available and they were mechanically unreliable and road-bound. Every branch of service – infantry, artillery, cavalry, engineers, logistics - was dependent on equids.
They were employed either as riding animals (primarily, but not exclusively, in the cavalry) or, in greater numbers, as draught animals, so they fulfilled both a combatant role in battle, and in supporting logistics.
In fact, the scale of animal use was extraordinary, with the British army alone boasting 510,000 horses by 1918...
“We always think of modern wars as being ‘mechanised’ but in fact the scale of animal use during both world wars was unprecedented. Never before have so many animals been mobilised for military service – unless we recognise this, we fail to understand how modern wars were actually fought,” Gervase Phillips, Principal Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, told FEI.org.
Phillips said the greatest single demand was probably for gun-teams to haul artillery pieces. North American mules and North American light draught horses proved especially useful to the British in this role and tens of thousands were brought across the Atlantic.
Throughout the conflict, the British Army deployed more than a million horses and mules, though there weren’t enough horses in Britain to meet demand, so over 1,000 horses a week were shipped from North America...
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