Friday, 6 December 2013

War Horse

There was an interesting article on the BBC web site about the uses of animals in the wars, especially the two world wars, and this time frame excluded earlier usages such as War Horses, War Camels, War dogs, War Elephants and even War Pigs prior to the modern wars. Of course we still use dogs as mine detectors and guards, and even dolphins and seals in modern navies.

However the article concentrated particularly the first world war, and animals on the home front and featured the recruitment of zoo animals such as 'Lizzie' the elephant and some camels from a circus, to pull carts around the streets of Sheffield. There were other examples given of elephants pulling ploughs and as the article pointed out, by 1914, cars and trucks were little more than new inventions, and horse power really still did mean that for most small scale haulage (including trams), as well as on the battlefronts.

Animals On The Home Front

The British army alone employed 1.5 million horses for cavalry (outside of the Western front), and the hauling of field gun batteries around on all fronts. There were 485,000 killed in the British Army - the animals were often 'put down' when injured as the cost and effectiveness of treatment was uneconomic, unless the riders did it themselves, so the category of 'wounded' was a small statistic. When you add in all the horses used by the other combatants, the numbers used and killed must have been astronomical.

Take the pigeons for example, of the17,000 parachuted into enemy territory, fewer than one in eight survived crossing the front lines, the vast majority were killed ... no wonder they gave the Dicken Medal aka  'animal VC's', for those who made it in the Second World War. There was even an animal version of the 'Red Cross', known as the 'Blue Cross', set up in the First World War to raise funds to treat the vast number of injured animals on the battlefields.

Even by the second world war, most of the armies until the US troops arrived, still used large numbers of horses. The German army for example is remembered for its mechanised 'Blitzkrieg' tactics, but in Europe at least, it still used horses to pull supplies on the Eastern front, and in fact there is an argument that it was the over-stretching of the supply fronts because of this reliance on draught animals, that led to the USSR being saved when the Germans invaded.

No Blitzkrieg More Like Verlangsamenkrieg In Most Cases.

The strangest use of animals in modern warfare was perhaps the glow worms - used in WW1 as an aid for map reading, and maybe the saddest part of this tale was the mules used in the jungles of Burma, which had their vocal chords cut to stop them giving soldiers away to the Japanese by braying .... imagine trying to do that now, there would be 'animal rights activists' attacking soldiers on the home front.

I suspect that we couldn't fight a world war ever again, too many of our fellow citizens would actually attack us at home these days, and that's just the Animal Liberation Front, never mind the other terrorist groups in the UK ... and that's about the saddest condemnation of what our politicians have done to us as a united country, that you probably could make.


  1. Wasn't there a Deep Purple album called 'War Pigs'? In fact in the movie Zulu don't cattle kill a lot of Zulu's? I also recall that behaves were catapults over walls, along with dead animals.

    Animals have always been a part of warfare since the dawn of time.

    1. I am assuming you meant 'bee hives were catapulted over the walls' .... the curse of predictive texting strikes again. LOL but yes, I think all your references are right apart from the fact that 'War Pigs' was 'Black Sabbath' (easy mistake to make).


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