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The EK1

It is really worth following this one right to the bottom of the page, there is a really rare "award"

Sharing the dangers with the driver were his horses, millions of which were killed during the war.

Major a.D. (außer Dienst:Retired) Anton Breitung pays tribute to the "Braver vierbeiniger Kamerade" (Brave four legged friends).  

"Summer 1917 on the Chemin des Dames. To the rear the batteries are having a horse inspection. The endless reports to the high command about the exhaustion and general bad condition of the animals have at last provoked a reaction. The Korpsstabsveterinär (Corp Staff veterinarian) from the Armeeoberkommando (Army High Command) has been ordered to investigate the claims. We go from battery to battery, column to column. The scenes are the same over and over again. Tired, miserable, weak, with heads hung low they stand there, overworked, hungry, exhausted and sick. Some of them are coughing, some swaying, heads down looking for single blades of grass in the sandy soil. After the parade and inspection of the horses, it is established that of the eighty horses in each battery or column, only about twenty are still fit for duty. Short of breath and with glazed eyes like a sick man who has given up all hope of life, it is a pitiful picture. The condition of the horses could lead to a catastrophe. With three years of service behind them, many have already died and in the survivors the strain caused by the battles on the Western Front is plainly visible. This is especially evident in the large cold bloods [Clydesdale and similar breeds of large horse] used to tow the heavy artillery. The heavy artillery’s support is always in demand, moving from one sector to another without time for rest or recuperation. When other troops are pulled out of the line for a well deserved rest the heavy artillery is hurried to another front for another battle. This meant straining the horses to the maximum so that the guns could arrive in time. The respect and fame garnered by the heavy artillery would not have been possible without the efforts of their horses.

Above: An Iron Cross document to Sgt Alwin Büttner of the 154th Horse Hospital attached to the 18th Army. The 18th Army under general von Hutier had been specially formed for the German 1918 offensives. The award to Büttner was made days before the wars end as the Germans were pulling back and heading home.

Once they had arrived in position there was no rest for the horses, ammunition was needed, large amounts would have to be brought forward for the coming battle. They would not only have to carry ammunition for their own guns, but also for the guns of other batteries in the sector - fixed batteries that had no horses of their own - that were dependent on the aid of mobile units. The trips were almost always over soft, almost impassable ground, over earth churned up by shells, through swamps, up stony, steep hills and in unknown territory at night. The horses plodded on faithfully, doing their duty until they dropped. In the coldest winters they had no stalls, in wind and storm, in ice and snow they were exposed to the elements. The heavy guns and carriages sank in the sand and mud of the Western front and the swamps of the Eastern front. They could only be moved by forcing the horses to give their all. As the war progressed fodder became scarce. The horses lost weight and strength, all the while the expectations of the army did not decrease but rather increased. This was especially bad on the Western Front, where there were high concentrations of troops and in the heat of summer there was little green fodder for the horses to be found, this was especially lacking in sectors like the Champagne front and on the Aisne.

Behind the lines the Armeekorps had planted the necessary food, but little of this seemed to make it to the front lines. Secretly, at night and without the knowledge of their superiors our brave drivers covered twenty or more kilometres to gather clover and succulent green grass from the fields. This had to be done very carefully, as to be caught would mean a heavy punishment. Greedily the hungry, thirsty horses enjoyed these delicacies. We officers found out about this bit by bit, but what should we have done? On the one hand discipline had to be kept, but on the other hand the zeal and caring shown by the drivers had to be admired. At the end of the day the fodder was arriving at the right place so we decided to see and hear nothing.

Many of our brave horses were killed by enemy fire. The vision of dead horses on the battlefield was a memory that would stay with us, sometimes whole columns were caught in a barrage and for weeks the ghastly smell of dozens of rotting horse carcasses would fill the air marking the place of slaughter. Other columns would pass by daily and would be reminded of how dangerous the area was and the horses would panic at the sight of their dead brethren. It is hardly possible to imagine all that was carried by our horses in the years on the front. An astounding amount of ammunition and supplies were carried - approximately three hundred million shells were fired."

One and a half million horses served in the German army during the Great War. According to veterinary reports over one million died - approximately sixty-eight percent. More died of starvation, exhaustion and exposure to the elements than due to enemy action. Seven million horses were treated for ailments (i.e. each horse approximately five or six times). One and a half million serious sickness cases were treated at one of the 478 special horse hospitals. By contrast, the French lost approximately eighty-five percent of their horses, the British seventy percent.

Right: A homefront award to a vetanarian, Korpsstabsveterinar Kutzner of the XVII Armeekorps.

  After the war, in the Magazine "Der Deutsche Tierfreund" (The German Animal friend) a farmer speaking on the subject of the horses that had served wrote:   "When we sing of old comrades we must also think of you, brave horses, who have served the fatherland in the most difficult of times, heroic and faithful until death! We will not forget you, and we owe you a "Thank You". There are still a few hundred war horses alive today, seventeen years after the war, pulling a farmers plough and doing other peaceful jobs. Most of these horses are now between 25-30 years old and are already put out to pasture."  

The farmer, along with "Der Deutsche Tierfreund" took pains to track down over 2000 of the old surviving war horses and each of them received a plaque engraved with an Iron Cross and "kriegskamerad" (war comrade) to be attached to their reins. A sack of corn was also given to those horses whose owners were in a financially bad situation. It was a well merited "thank you" for the services provided.

On the main page about the support services more details can be found about the Horse hospitals and doctors, click HERE

Above: One of the "Kriegskamerad" awards. These are usually sold without the leather, as stable door insignia. This example is rare as it still has the leather mount. Sources differ in their estimates, between 1000 - 2000 of these were supposed to have been awarded. This one is numbered 3566. This particular one was handed out by the Tierschutzverein in the Erzgebirge, at the local branch in Schlettau.
Above: An oil painting by Jos.(eph) Hartl, painted in June 1919.
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