Horses and Mules

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by liverpool annie, Dec 29, 2008.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    At the beginning of the war the British Army owned 25,000 horses. This was not considered enough and during the next two weeks a further 165,000 were recruited from Britain. Horses were also purchased from the USA, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Spain and Portugal. Horses aged three to twelve were trained as rapidly as possible by British soldiers called 'roughriders'. When they were ready the horses were formed into squadrons and sent to the Western Front.

    The best horses were used by the cavalry. These horses had to be strong as the average cavalryman's weight was twelve stone and his equipment, saddle, ammunition, etc. usually weighed another nine stone. Men in the cavalry were instructed to take the weight off their horses as much as they could. This including dismounting and walking with their horses and unsaddling at every opportunity.

    In 1914 the British Army only owned eighty motor vehicles. Therefore they were very dependent on horses for transporting good and supplies. This was especially true of the Western Front where conditions made it very difficult to use motor vehicles.

    The British Army also purchased a large number of mules from the USA. The mule has amazing stamina and endured the terrible conditions in the front-line better than the horse. At the end of the war the army owned 213,300 mules.

    Finding enough food for the horses and mules at the Western Front was a constant problem. The daily ration for a horse was 20 lbs of grain a day. This was nearly 25% below what a horse would be fed in Britain. The horses were always hungry and where often seen trying to eat wagon wheels. When grain was in short supply, the army fed their horses and mules on sawdust cake.

    By 1917 the British Army were employing over 530,000 horses and 230,000 mules. Large numbers of horses were killed and wounded during the war. Others became lame or sick. The British Army discovered they needed to buy about 15,000 horses a month to maintain the number they needed. It has been calculated that almost half a million horses owned by the British Army were killed during the First World War.
  2. Barnbarroch

    Barnbarroch New Member

    It wasn't only food that was a problem; keeping the horses and mules (and humans no doubt) in drinking water was a major concern, as mentioned by Frank Vans Agnew in his memoir. I'd never thought of that before!
  3. Interrogator#6

    Interrogator#6 Active Member

    This problem was not unique to the Great War. I can recall reading the published diary of an artillery commander during the American Civil War. He was often battling the QM Corp (War Dept.) over the lack of feed for the transportation horses. He started by citing the tons of grain, of hay, of straw, but got no reaction from his suppliers. Eventually he broke it down to daily ration per horse. This was so low the QM could not move fast enough to get him a decent supply.

Share This Page