Thursday, 26 August 2010

Operation Sealion

Had the Battle of Britain been lost, and more importantly had the Navy lost control in the Channel (improbable) then we could well be marking the anniversary of the German invasion of England. The Battle of Britain marked a pivotal point in the war, and when we returned to France four years on the world was a different world.

When Lord Gort led the BEF to France in 1940 he took his charger and his groom with him; generals were expected to take their horses on campaign in those days. The poor creature was shot on the quay at Dunkirk when Gort evacuated, to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy.

And despite the grainy newsreels of the German blitzkrieg in Poland, had the German army invaded it would have proceeded through Kent on a horse and cart. The German order of battle for Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, included 57,000 horses in the invasion fleet, and 500 tons a day of fodder in the supply train.

Well, we withstood Goering's assaults and regrouped. Command changes were made. The gentlemen went out and the players came in. Without horses or grooms. In the British army at least, the days of the horse were over. Not so for the Heer; fuel and truck shortages meant that even in 1945, when the secrets at the heart of the atom had been broken, the German army was still largely horse-drawn. The chaos at the Falaise gap was a jumble of dead horseflesh, and that remarkable colour footage in the collection of the USHMM online showing whole German army groups surrendering in 1945 shows also long columns of horses and carts and few German trucks.

When the allies re-entered Europe in June 1944 there was not a single horse in the entire invasion force. Patton later acquired one from somewhere, but that was narcissism. And perhaps for the horse, for horse-kind in general, this was a good thing.

I've still to see Morpurgo's Warhorse at the New London and perhaps this is a useful reminder to do something about it.


Demetrius said...

Oil, a lot of WW2 strategy was about getting access to oil. At that time the American's had a surplus. Now they don't.

Anonymous said...

Did not the russians use quite a lot of horse born combat troops to advantage.
Sort of four hoof drive.