Horses Were Vital to the German War Effort in World War II
|Horses were extremely important within the Wehrmacht.|
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Horses, in fact, were incredibly important to the course of World War II, from the first day almost to the last. Many have heard the tales about Polish cavalry charging against advancing panzers during the Battle of Poland in 1939, but the story of horses during World War II goes much deeper than that. Let's look at a few key uses of horses during World War II.
1939: Polish Charge of KrojantyWe've all heard the legends about how the Polish cavalry made futile charges against the panzers and got slaughtered. This has become a point of pride for the Polish, who deeply resent the idea that they were completely powerless against the advancing Wehrmacht.
|"Der Pimpf" - this is a Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) publication portraying the panzers sweeping across the hapless Poles and their cavalry.|
|Polish cavalry in September 1939. Exactly where and when is unclear. Some sources say this was taken during fighting in Sochaczew.|
|Summer 1941 (Buschel, Federal Archive).|
|Wehrmacht soldiers leading their horses across the Vistula/Weichsel River bridge (Federal Archives).|
|A typical Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (6 Rad Sd.Kfz. 231).|
As is always the case in such situations, some make the argument that the attack "bought some time for other Polish units to withdraw." Well, the Germans weren't advancing at the time and probably would have bivouacked in the vicinity for the night anyway, so that is perhaps a bit of rationalization. General Guderian, who led from the front, soon heard about the incident and told his men to forget about the Polish cavalry and get moving again toward Danzig. Axis war correspondents quickly seized on the incident, which did feature a lot of dead horses and Polish soldiers to support the notion that the Poles rode horses against tanks. The cavalry did wind up engaging German armor, so that part is true, but not (apparently) intentionally.
|Polish helmets piled up after the charge at Krojanty.|
Operation BarbarossaMy main source for this section is "Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East," Earl F. Ziemke and Magna Bauer (Military Heritage Press 1985).
|Feeding the horses was a daily ritual. Unfortunately for the horses, their food supply became almost exclusively hay as the Operation Barbarossa campaign progressed, and not enough of that, either.|
|A German soldier with a horse and Heer (army) wagon.|
|A German officer on 21 June 1942. The location is unknown, but a favored military expression was that you would fight until you see your horse drink from the enemy's home river (Federal Archive).|
|German cavalry soldiers showing how to use their mounts as gun platforms.|
|Men of the SS Cavalry Brigade (Federal Archive, Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Adendorff-002-18A).|
|The original caption of this photo was "Übermantel und Pferd" (winter coat and horse). Apparently, the soldier is in the German mountain troops ("Gebirgsjäger").|
1945: Battle of SchoenfeldThe Battle of Schoenfeld is not exactly a famous battle. Nobody ever is going to confuse it with the Battle of Stalingrad or anything like that. However, it does have one claim to fame: it featured the last horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.
|Polish cavalry ca. 1945.|
|The Polish 1st Cavalry Brigade around the time of the Battle of Schoenfeld in March 1945.|
|Hungarian soldiers near the village of Ivanovka Khokholsky in the Voronezh region, 1942 (Tamas Conoco Sr.).|
|Marching somewhere in Ukraine, probably retreating, at the pace of the horses, 1942 ((Tamas Conoco Sr.).|
|The Allies used horses as well. Here are Coast Guard members patrolling a beach in New Jersey (Left to right: seamen first class C. R. Johnson, Jesse Willis, Joseph Washington, and Frank Garcia) (Archives.gov).|
ConclusionHorses were used extensively during World War II. Not only were they effective at hauling large loads for long distances, but they also did not use up scarce commodities like oil and rubber. They were particularly useful during operations in Eastern Europe, where roads were bad and often non-existent and hay relatively plentiful. While the other combatants all used horses to one extent or another, they were a major component of the Wehrmacht, which could not have operated effectively without them.
|Soviet cavalry in the Caucasus. They could go where panzers could not.|