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Saving American Horse-Drawn Artillery
Animals at War
The following argument for the retention of horse-drawn field artillery regiment in the US Army was found in a letter written by Major General R. H. Danford, Chief of Field Artillery to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 of the War Department General Staff. The letter was dated 29 March, 1940.
I cannot agree with the constantly recurring proposals, which if accepted, would soon leave the Army without means for training, or plans for utilizing, horse-drawn artillery in any of our combat forces. Horse-drawn artillery is increasingly less popular with those who know little about it. It demands greater initiative and activity on the part of officers and men. Care of animals is a drudgery. Yet, this drudgery is cheerfully performed by our few remaining horse-drawn units.
Horse-drawn artillery could readily be dispensed with in peace. Motor vehicles can be secured. Marches are always made on roads. Maneuvers never destroy bridges. Wide turning movements always seem practicable. Battlefield mobility is little considered in comparison with strategic mobility. If our next war is to be fought on roads, the horse will not be needed, an our horse-drawn units can then quickly and easily be converted to motor-drawn.
If any criticism can be made of our divisions now training in the south, it is that their combat exercises are conducted on the roads, with groups of infantry riding to battle in congested motor columns, and with little, if any, reconnaissance or action of any kind off the roads.
In the combat zone we are prone to forget that the foot soldier and the mounted man are likely still to be the most mobile combat elements over all sorts of terrain and under all conditions of weather.
The fact cannot be brushed aside that in the two most efficient and most powerful armies of Europe (Germany and France) the horse has been retained in large numbers, both for cavalry and for divisional artillery. It is highly significant that the Germans, as a result of their marvelously efficient and successful campaign in Poland, seem satisfied with the fact that all of the artillery of their heavy infantry divisions is horse-drawn. This is not because of difficulty in gasoline supply, but is to utilize the great national resource of animal availability and at the same time secure greater reliability in battlefield mobility.1 With great masses of troops, battlefield mobility is likely to far outweigh the strategic mobility of its small component units.
It is in rear of the immediate combat area, where roads and bridges can be kept in repair, where traffic control can be rigidly enforced, that the motor vehicle in its tasks of supply and evacuation, can make its greatest contribution to the efficiency of the Army, and not in the usurpation of functions that the horse can still perform better than the motor.
If the proposal contained in your memorandum, to motorize the artillery of the square division, is concurred in and adopted, the next logical and imminent step in the abolition of the horse, would be his abolition from all ROTC units.2 This, also, cannot be concurred in by the undersigned.
Under date of November 22, 1933, in a letter entitled “Policy for Mechanization and Motorization,” the War Department announced that one-half of the division 75mm artillery of each Regular Army division in the United States would be motorized, while the remainder would be horse-drawn. This decision was made as the result of very careful study of the entire subject of transportation for the Army as a whole. It gives greater flexibility to the division artillery by having both animal-drawn and motor-drawn light artillery available to it.
During the same year (1933) the War Department eliminated horse-drawn 75mm gun regiments from all National Guard divisions. The undersigned regards this as a wise decision. for the reason that with but a very few exceptions, the National Guard can not efficiently or economically utilize horses in their training.
Under date of March 13, 1935, in a letter, subject: “Tables of Organization for 75mm Field Artillery” (AG 320.2 FA), the War Department made a decision which had the effect of prescribing that one-half of the 75mm gun regiments of the Organized Reserve divisions would be horse-drawn, while the other half would be truck-drawn.
Within the last year, the War Department eliminated horse-drawn 75mm gun regiments from Regular Army divisions and placed all existing horse-drawn 75mm gun regiments in GHQ reserve. This was not objected to by men under the assumption and expectation that all existing horse-drawn units would not be subject to further conversion and elimination.
The effect of the Tables of Organization as proposed in your memorandum will be to eliminate all horse-drawn artillery from all Organized Reserve divisions. This, therefore, succeeds in eliminating all horse-drawn artillery from all Infantry divisions of all components of the Army. This dangerously puts too many eggs in the motor basket, and makes field artillery officers of all components aware of the utter uselessness, and robs them of any desire, of trying to equip themselves to perform efficiently the rather arduous duties that befall the horse-drawn artilleryman.
Source: U.S. National Archives, RG 177, Records of the Chiefs of Arms, Office of the Chief of Field Artillery, Correspondence 1817-1942, Box 17, Folder 320.2.
When General Danford wrote about “heavy infantry divisions,” he referred to German infantry divisions of the ordinary kind. He was wrong, however, in believing that the Germany had plenty of gasoline.
“ROTC” stands for “Reserve Officer Training Corps.”