Horses of the German Army in World War II

Being there . . . . for a truly extraordinary World War II experience, almost 80 years later,
perusing some 400-plus rarely reviewed b & w photos of the German Army Cavalry, the farm
and work horses used, virtually all, sooner or later, destroyed in action, worked, froze, and
starved to death, or slaughtered to feed retreating troops. Countless descriptions have been
written by the Germans themselves on their fighting equipment. Their volumes document, with
b & w photographs, the uses of every imaginable tank, aircraft, truck, and three-wheeler, to say
nothing of personal equipment, the battle units had at their disposal to win the war. Yet,
horses, so critically used, especially in the final two years of the war, were ignored, perhaps due
more to embarrassment than any other reason since most of the SS and Wehrmacht power was
mechanized and motorized. And the unfortunate horses between 1939 and 1945 supplied
some 80% of the German motive power, pulling everything massive armies needed in the open
fields, deserts, hills, and high mountains, in short, wherever they could amble, hour after hour,
day after day, until exhaustion, and usual hunger, caused them to collapse. Naturally, if tanks
were stuck in the mud and snow of Russia, the closest horses supplying ground forces had to
sacrifice their lives to pull them out. Undernourished, skin and bones, so close to death, the
hearts of countless horses sooner or later gave way, then undoubtedly cooked for the troops to
eat. More horses were used in World War II than in any other war in world history. The German
Army employed slightly more than 3,000,000 horses and mules from 1939 – 1945. More than
1.7 million deaths were recorded up to the Fall of 1944, then all records were burned or tossed.
All that the Allies could determine was that very, very few survivors made it back to the
meadow grasses of Germany. The fortunate horses the Allies captured were provided whatever
grasses and other foods were available, groomed daily, then turned over to the countries
Reviewed and Recommended by Don DeNevi
“HORSES OF THE GERMAN ARMY IN WORLD WAR II”, by Paul Louis Johnson. Schiffer Military
History Publishing: 2006, 352 pages, hardcover, 9” x 11 ½”; $59.95. Visit,
[email protected].
Included in this exceptional masterwork is the text from the U.S. Army Military History
Institute publication, MS #P-090. This official study serves as the 10-chapter core of Paul
Johnson’s text, including the often-thick photo captions. Such valuable, insightful information is
the most knowledgeable the German army participants of that study could provide. Their
conclusions in Chapters 1 – 10 constitute a very critical critique of what will undoubtedly be the
final mass use of horses in warfare. If a military enthusiast truly means to understand the
performance and tactics of the Wehrmacht in WWII, he or she must understand the horse and
its logistic requirements.
Even the most unsophisticated general reader of this perfectly laid out highly illustrated
book will be amazed how well the German troops cared for their horses, when cost in human

lives, Allied or their own, meant little or nothing. Another surprise was learning how just
feeding the often-accumulated countless horses seemed insurmountable. How did the German
troops manage when it was common knowledge that a single horse needed 20 pounds of hay
per day? Of course, 20 lb was subject to the size of the horse and how hard it was worked. As
the Germans advanced or retreated, volume of hay was an additional major problem. An
average sized horse ate approximately 100 bales of hay during the winter months. In good
pasture grass, a horse needed eight hours of grazing to maintain its condition. In winter, this
was nearly impossible.
Paul Johnson’s valuable contribution to understanding the role of German and captured
horses in World War II is acknowledged and appreciated by all connected to this column,
readers or preparers. Another hitherto unexplored niche has been meticulously researched,
narrated, and published to not only appease our curiosity, but also to serve as a model for
additional research on ignored and long-forgotten subjects – – in short, to brush away their
amassed dust and debris for us to peruse and ponder, lest we remain uninformed, and it be lost
in the vast depths of history.

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