Thursday, 3 September 2009

The end of the War Horse

Documentary makers invariably pick from two sorts of film stock to illustrate the fall of France; Stuka dive bombers, and German tanks pitching at speed across some French field. In truth, these were the teeth of the Blitzkrieg, so there's no inaccuracy, but the overuse of the images obscures the nature of the tail of the Heer in 1940. The German army that invaded France and Poland was in reality largely horse-drawn; artillery pieces, supplies, troop transport were all transported to battle pulled by horses.

And Germany was not alone. When Lord Gort travelled to France to take up command of the BEF he took his charger and groom with him; the poor creature (the charger, presumably not the groom) was shot on the quayside rather than be allowed to fall into German hands as Gort returned to England.

The German order of battle for Operation Sealion, the invasion of England, included 4,500 horses to land with the first wave, and a further 57,500 horses with the main invasion force. Only 34,200 motor vehicles were listed. German generals were as concerned with supplies of hay and fodder as with shells.

When allied forces landed again in France in 1944 there was not a single horse in the invasion fleet. The same was not true of the German forces; a shortage of motor fuel and other armaments manufacturing priorities meant that even in 1944 and 1945 the Heer was largely horse-drawn. The carnage at Falaise was admixed of the stench of dead horses and burning armour. But 1945 was the end of the War Horse in European battle.

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of any number of events in that war over the next six years, commemorating an end to the use of horses in war is not a bad thing to remember.

I still haven't seen the National Theatre's production of Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse' at the New London, but I reckon anyone who has will agree with the sentiment above.


The Great Simpleton said...

I presume that as you are in London that you have seen this?

I used to regularly walk past it and it never failed to bring about a melancholy moment or two.

talwin said...

For Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, the Germans used an astonishing 600,000 plus horses. Think about feeding that lot!

Bill Quango MP said...

The most frightening statistic for the Germans in Jan 1940, even more than ammunition, was the loss of some 200,000 agricultural workers into the army.
The army was desperately worried about hose feed. That was one of the main reasons for the army offering no objections to the enforced movement of some 200,000 Polish POW's to the Reich farms.
The start of slave labour came about due to animal feeds.