U.S. Army Medics During the Battle of the Bulge
Pack Horses, Mules & Donkeys
But, it wasn't only the cavalry's war horses that were pitched against World War II modern machines in the rugged country of Europe, the pack horse, artillery horse and transport horse were as well, and did an exceptional job!
Both the allies and axis armed forces used pack horses and transport horses throughout the war; huge draft teams, bred especially for hauling, pulling or carrying heavy loads.
Pack and transport horses ...unlike their tough mule cousins who would stop when tired, would always go the extra step, working until they could work no more! We shall never know how many of them survived the carage which lasted from the first hour of the war to the last; anyone who was ever involved in World War II will carry the picture of the hundreds, no thousands, of horse bodies which lined the sides of the roads in Europe, indelibly printed in his memory for all times.
But it was pack mules that were a greater value due to their ability to negotiate rugged terrain inaccessible by vehicles or even horses. This fact was proven in the mountains of Italy, Greece, the Balkans and the dense island jungles and high mountains of the Pacific, by all sides!
Before we go on about mules, we should explain just what this enigmatic fellow is; biologically, the good old mule is the hybid off spring of a stallion (horse) and a female donkey.
Tiny pocket sized donkeys, served both the allies and axis in India, Egypt, and Italy; always patient, they plodded comically, but faithfully, along rough supply lanes, long ears waving with every step of the way! Despite their small size, they carried loads of supplies and ammo weighting up to 200 pounds, and at a rate of two miles per hour.
The quality of caution so characteristic of the mule, is inherited from his donkey sire; actually a donkey is even more stubborn, he likes to see his way clear hundreds of feet ahead or he just won't move, and water was a distinct menace!
But tiny as they were, some African varieties measured only forty eight inches at the shoulders, these plucky little fellows endured more hardship, than almost any other known draft animal.
When the war entered its 4th year, there were almost 10,000 mules in the US Army, in spite of streamlined, eight wheeled transport trucks, tanks, and jeep. The mule's flinty feet, inborn caution, and patience made him ideal for traversing precipices, stony roads, and jungles where wheeled transport could not penetrate.
Chinese Army Mule Team On the Burma Road
As early as 1940, the army had discovered that its new war machines were fine and speedy in open country. But when it came to mud, snow, jungles, mountain trails, and cowpaths, four sturdy legs still made the best time.
In North Africa, the rains stopped everything but the mules, Philippine mountains gave them a chance to show off their goat like characteristics, they served bravely through the slaugher of Bataan and then, at the very last, they provided meat for troops that had been cut off from supplies.
During the Burma campagin, Brigadier Wingate thought the world of mules, and no wonder, they carried all his British Chindits' stores, light guns, and munitions over tracks, that were almost impossible for humans, let alone animals! And Vingar Joe felt the same way, as pack mules carried his US Army Raiders guns, ammo and supplies as well.
And in the Italian mountains, they were the backbone of the Army's 10th Mountain Infantry, without mules no supplies or equipment would had followed their hickory clad commandos on their lightning raids across Italy's snow bound wastes.
Brit Chindits Loading Obstinate Mule Onto Plane
Have you ever heard the expression, "stubborn as a mule!"
Well, most mule phobias are based on very sound logic, but afew aren't so easily pinned down. A mule may, for example, struggle to stay out of a particular army corral and once in it refuse to leave. He may boot the handler, who has been kindest to him, after years of devoted comradship. And he doesn't like crossing rivers or streams ...but he can climb a slope up to forty five degrees with no effort, and carry up to 350 pounds for twenty five miles, in a emergency he can be pushed as far as seventy miles with no ill effects. One pack train, during the Arizona "Loco" Rebellion in 1882, is said to have covered 280 miles in three days.
Cows, Oxens & Reindeers
Teams of oxens have long been considered beasts of burden, they helped pulled covered wagons across the American west; plowed the rice patties of the far east, and the fields of Europe ...and during the war, they were sometimes also used by quick thinking soldiers on both sides, as a means of hauling what he couldn't, or for getting him from point A to Point B.
Cows on the other hand, are a domesticated farm animal and generally are never used to pull anything, but there are afew photographs from the war to suggest, that on occasion, they were used to pull carts, etc., probably by some city slicker GI, who lucky for him, didn't know any better!
And reindeers, well Santa wasn't the only one to use them to pull a sleigh, in Finland during the Winter War, over 100,000 were utilized by the military for raiding patrols, supply transport, and carting the wounded to field hospitals.
Jap Elephant Patrol, Burma
Elephants & Camels
There is a "war story" told, how during the Burma campaign, Captain Norton's famous British mule company, while carring rations down a jungle track, were charged by a small band of Japanese soldiers mounted on elephants. Now, that was an exceptional war time role for any elephant, because despite his battle proportions, he is a perfectly awful soldier.
His mental attitude is just all wrong. He is extremely gun shy, very temperamental, and to happy go lucky. And the worst is, that if an elephant says he is not going to do something that's requested of him, or that he is going to do something NOT requested, there isn't a man alive, who is big enough to beat him down and show him who's the boss.
Of all the animals used during WW-II, the elephant alone was able to supplant the machines, that had susposely supplanted him in the jungles of the far east.
Elephants definitely made a HUGE name for themselves on the India and Burma frontier, and not merely as a means of transport, but also as a way of building bridges and roads in remote areas, where it was impossible to even get tractors in, much less use them.
During the mid war years, all sorts of measures were adopted by the Nazis to conserve gasoline, above is pictured, perhaps one of the more unusual means they tried. Elephants from the famous Hamburg Zoo were used for plowing the fields, rather than tractors ...I would guess they were abit slower too!
The Lowly Camel
There are countless breeds of camel, some good, some bad, some hardy and some fragile, but all military oonts can be broadly classified into two big groups, transport camels and riding camels. Both types saw service with the Allies in North Africa, Burma, India, China, and southern Russia.
Pack camels were used much like any other pack animal, the only difference was the desert environment.
And riding camels, as romantic as it sounds, weren't used by charging sword waving soldiers, but simply as a means of transport. The camel trooper of World War II fought essentially as a guerrilla infantryman on foot, although the French did have General de Lay's Sahara Camel Corps, which was made up largely of Meharistes, the toughest, most hard bitten men, that North Africa had to offer ...they were the most feared force the allies had in the desert war!