Jan 13·edited Jan 13Liked by Bruce I Gudmundsson

You have to train horses to operate in combat zones - it's what horse people call being "bomb proof" - they won't startle or bolt at loud noises, explosions, etc. And I'll suspect that they probably favoured some cross of draught and "other" for the musculature and bone heft. But surely, once the artillery was in place, they removed the horses back to a distance away and picketed them or something?

But mules, I'd think, would be the preferred for a couple of reasons: they're tougher, stronger, and smarter - much smarter than a horse, really. They aren't "stubborn" - that's a myth - they have good reasoning ability and they like to do their own thinking. You just have to treat them reasonably and explain it to them and partner with them - a mule will do anything for you if you treat them with respect and kindness. Also, they can function on leaner rations and go longer on them than a horse can, so in that respect they're easier keepers and they don't colic nearly as easily or as often.

So why such a large herd of horses rather than mules, when mules are easier and cheaper to keep?

Expand full comment
Jan 13Liked by Bruce I Gudmundsson

The US Army used mules and pack artillery in northern Burma in World War II, as did the US-equipped Chine Army in Burma. I think the US may also used mules and pack artillery in New Guinea.

Expand full comment
Jan 8·edited Jan 8Liked by Bruce I Gudmundsson

A book I found by accident in a thrift store, which I’ve never seen referenced anywhere, Horses and Americans, by Phil Stong, was published in 1939. It is an excellent book, not least because it captures the entire history and infrastructure that existed in the country when traction and transport were all provided by horses. More to the point of this post, he has a section at the end where he argues, with seeming reasonableness, for the importance of mounted troops and horses for traction in warfare, drawing his examples from the Spanish Civil War. The winners write the history, and internal combustion defeated equine power.  Nonetheless, the subsequent dismissive attitude towards people who made arguments for the ongoing utility of horsepower is misguided. They had a case.

Similarly, there is a book that came out in the 70s about German Mountain troops, James Lucas, Alpine Elite. It has a fascinating narrative at the end, where the German mountain formations, which were originally raised in Austria, are fighting in Austria against the advancing Red Army. They found themselves in hilly and mountainous country after being wasted on the steppes, where their skills were useless. The discussion of Russian cavalry infiltrating through the woods behind them could’ve been something out of the Napoleonic wars. That was 1945. No one on either side of that particular set of small scale local battle doubted the utility of horse mounts for the attackers, both for reconnaissance and for transport to the point of battle.

Expand full comment