Spiegel Online just published a large feature on a new history book which details transcripts of conversations between German combat veterans of World War Two. As you can imagine, they make for an uncomfortable read.
I found this extract, which seemed to me to sum up our strange attitudes to horses.
Pohl: “I had to drop bombs onto a train station in Posen ( Poznan ) on the second day of the war in Poland . Eight of the 16 bombs fell in the city, right in the middle of houses. I didn’t like it. On the third day I didn’t care, and on the fourth day I took pleasure in it. We enjoyed heading out before breakfast, chasing individual soldiers through the fields with machine guns and then leaving them there with a few bullets in their backs.”
Meyer: “But it was always against soldiers?”
Pohl: “People too. We attacked convoys in the streets. I was sitting in the ‘chain’ (a formation of three aircraft). The plane would wiggle a little and we would bank sharply to the left, and then we’d fire away with every MG (machine gun) we had. The things you could do. Sometimes we saw horses flying around.”
Meyer: “That’s disgusting, with the horses…come on!”
Pohl: “I felt sorry for the horses, not at all for the people. But I felt sorry for the horses right up until the end.”
People think horses were not involved in the war, but, as I understand it, Hitler’s army used more equines than Napoleon’s, and they can only have represented a fraction of the combined total of horses destroyed by the hostilities. Not only that, but, as this extract from the Eisenhower Institute website proves, their care had horrific consequences for the populations attacked on the Eastern Front:
One little known aspect of the massive effort to perform what today might be called ethnic cleansing, concerned Wehrmacht (German Army) horses. The typical infantry division table of organization included 12,352 officers and men and 4,656 horses. The vast majority of German artillery and supplies were horse drawn. Although much has been made of the notion of Blitzkrieg (lightning war) the fact of the war was that no German army could move faster than its horses could pull its equipment behind it. Depending on the weather and distance traveled, each division needed up to 55 tons of feed per day. During the invasion of the nations of northwest Europe, feed for the horses was generally carried with the army or taken to it by supply trains from Germany. The Wehrmacht made few such plans for its invasion of the USSR. There were more than 750,000 horses in the attacking force in June of 1941 and they required 16,350 tons of feed per day, much of which was to be confiscated from the Russians. As the towns and villages experienced murder and the torch, their granaries were emptied and their horses stolen for replacements. The mass starvation of peasants in the coming winter was attributable, in fair measure, to the empty grain bins between the Volga and Moscow. Like everything else about the Great Patriotic War, the scale is difficult to conceive. The German army causality losses during the 1941-45 period exceeded 6,700,000 horses (26,000 of which were eaten by starving German soldiers during the battle of Stalingradvii) and no one can calculate the number of Russian lives lost because the horses consumed the grain that could have supported human life.