Page 9 - Chiron Spring 2018
P. 9

  Large numbers of horses in the open with inadequate cover invited disease and welfare problems
Roads became mud baths
Europe was both costly and dangerous and over 6,500 horses and mules were drowned or killed by shell fire on Allied ships attacked by the Germans. In turn, New Zealand lost around 3 percent of the nearly 10,000 horses shipped to the front during the war.
In the first weeks of the war, the German army mobilized 715,000 horses and the Austrians 600,000. More than 375,000 horses were taken from German-occupied French territory for use by the German military and captured Ukrainian territory provided another 140,000.
It has been reported that a total of eight million military horses and mules died during the entire conflict of the 1914-1918 war with around 256,000 of those being horses and mules in British service.
How was this appalling loss allowed to happen and what were the reasons for it? A war zone is far removed from any other atmosphere of order and efficiency. The huge numbers of horses and mules that were sent from Britain and elsewhere provided an equally huge logistics problem – where to house them, feed them and
Impassable waterlogged terrain
 care for them when they became sick or injured?
Even before they got to the war there were major problems. Collecting huge numbers of horses together as in Canada and the United States resulted in high mortality as infectious diseases took hold and overwhelmed existing veterinary services causing British Army Veterinary Corps (AVC) officers to be sent to both countries to organise and manage the situation, with considerable success. Further unnatural stress with losses also occurred during shipping to Europe. In 1917 the American Expeditionary Forces had no veterinary organisation and the huge losses alarmed the British who insisted that one was formed and operated on European lines, whilst the French were concerned that incoming diseases might spread into their civilian animals.
On and near the battlefield conditions were never good and hastily erected temporary stables could not keep out the wind, rain and cold. Simple things like the supply of water and fodder were not consistent and the German army
lost many through starvation. Both sides realised the conflict between the space and transport of military supplies like ammunition against the far bulkier needs for animal fodder. The sheer number of animals gathered together caused major hygiene problems and posed a health risk to both the horse population and the troops as communicable diseases spread quickly.
The causes of animal death varied with the terrain of the battlefield from the Western Front, the Middle East and even to Russia, and clearly the climate was very important in these different areas. Different types of warfare also influenced overall health and welfare. Casualties from direct enemy action were considerable and superimposed upon them were thousands of cases of infectious diseases, malnourishment, debility and outright exhaustion.
Large numbers of horses and mules thus became ill through malnourishment, poor welfare, the demands of heavy physical work in appalling conditions and infectious horse diseases. Many died
German heavy artillery
   French Hotchkiss machinegun
Unbroken barbed wire defences

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