When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, there were hundreds of thousands of American men and animals in Europe. Just as it had taken over a year to build to these numbers, it would take many months to get the men home.
Some animals were still needed, because troops were sent to Germany to occupy that country and prevent further military action, and their animals continued to work alongside them.Clearing rubble in a French village.
There was really no thought to bringing the animals back across the ocean. It was costing huge amounts of money to feed them, and so as soon as they were no longer needed, they were sold - Left Behind, to new lives that might or might not be kind.
For the rest, animals and the men waiting to go home, perhaps occupying Germany, life out of the battle zone was a distinct relief. They found time to have fun, and some of that time was spent on horse events. The Quartermaster's Corps had contests for best turned out team and wagon, while the cavalry units (finally) had the opportunity to ride their horses. They staged horse shows and riding contests, as well as using the time to improve the horsemanship skills of the average trooper. This time was The Lighter Sideof the entire wartime experience.
Back home, a victory parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City was In the offing. The only trouble was, nobody knew exactly when. August 1919? September? With about three weeks notice, it fell to a reserve officer in the Quartermaster Corps to pull together all the uniforms, wagons, horses, mules, saddles, sabers, and other paraphernalia needed to outfit the troopers. And it certainly could not look war worn - after all, this was a victorious force that people were seeing! Add in paint, horseshoes, clippers, and underwear. A quartermaster officer's humorous but factual account of "A Hurry Job and It's Handling"will bring memories back for anyone who has served in the armed forces.
Veterinary Troops Relax After the Armistice
Post-Armistice Horse Activities
As soon as the armistice was signed, the situation with animals began to reverse. They were no longer being overworked, but neither were they any longer the most valuable item of supply in the entire army. After a few more hard weeks, their conditions began to improve rapidly.
Still, animals were a commodity, they were no longer needed, and worse still, they ate and required daily care. Thus, the quicker they could be transferred out of the U.S. inventory, the more money could be saved.
Invaluable on Monday, Surplus On Tuesday
November 11, 1918 was a Monday - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the armistice that halted fighting in World War 1 was signed in ceremony in a Paris train station.
Hundreds of thousands of horses and mules were about to be excess property. Many were sick, undernourished, wounded, or simply exhausted. At the time, there were twenty-one veterinary field hospitals and two base veterinary hospitals permanently established in France, as well as five mobile veterinary hospitals forward with the troops. Interior of the U.S. veterinary hospital at St. Nazaire, France. This photo is good for showing the hospital's design and construction, but empty hospitals were not found in France until well after November 1918. Personnel and supplies for ten more field hospitals and one more base hospital were either in shipping or being organized in France when the armistice was signed.1
But even these facilities would be overwhelmed for several months as troops demobilized and turned their animals in by the thousands. Healthy animals were supposed to be turned in to remount depots, but many were not actually healthy enough for this route.
Three thousand animals were turned in to the veterinary hospital at Verdun within 24 hours after the personnel arrived there for station in December, though the accommodation of the veterinary hospital there was for less than 1,700 animals.2
Over the next several months, a determined effort was made to locate new hospital sites and have more labor troops assigned to Veterinary Corps to aid in evacuation and care of sick animals until the veterinary hospital personnel which were on the water would arrive.
The pneumonia wards at veterinary hospital No. 9 in France. Greg Krenzelok collection. On March 1, 1919, there were 20 veterinary hospitals in operation, exclusive of army veterinary hospitals with an animal capacity of 26,664, and containing about 20,000 animals.3
After April 1, 1919, the capacity of veterinary hospitals was gradually reduced, and by May 1, twelve veterinary units had been placed on the priority list for return to the United States, and all labor troops had been relieved from duty with the veterinary service. Only 8 hospitals were then in operation, containing about 4,000 animals.4
The hospitals could have been evacuated more rapidly but for the fact that the remount depots were receiving animals from troops that were returning home and were crowded to capacity. Therefore animals were held at hospitals until they were in a salable condition.5
More Animals Arrive
Ironically, as weary animals were being turned in as excess, shipments of new animals from the U.S. were still arriving. The animals on the ships were uniformly more healthy and of course were not as exhausted as the animals in France, and the army began to issue them to the Third Army, which was the units that were moving into Germany to occupy that country. For more on what happened to those animals, scroll down to The Lighter Side, below.
Hauling a drinking water supply tank in Germany. 1919.From mid-November to mid-December, the A.E.F. was still forming the Third Army. It needed to be far more mobile than the First or Second armies had been in France, where the battlefront never moved from month to month.
As the Remount Service reported later, “the task of securing enough animals to make that Army mobile necessitated the stripping of the First and Second Armies. As all animals in both the First and Second had been through a long, hard siege, it was an impossibility to turn over enough good animal to enable the new Army to make the long march to the Rhine without many evacuations.”6
Marching to Germany
The 200-mile march from France to the Rhine started November 17 and ended on December 14, 1918 – less than four weeks. During that time the Third Army evacuated 1700 animals. One division alone, the 32nd, lost 515 animals, 343 being evacuated and 172 having died or been destroyed.7
Pulling an army kitchen on an icy road in Germany, winter 1919.During that month of marching, the two biggest problems were evacuations (because there were no veterinary hospitals near the rapidly-advancing troops) and forage, because the army was outmarching its supply chain. “A large part of the time there was hardly more than half enough forage.”8
The march took them through a large part of Germany where the local populace had not had enough food for themselves or their own animals for months or years, so local purchase was not much of an option. And, of course, it was winter.
About 50,000 animals were part of this march: 9,316 cavalry horses, 25,691 draft horses, 14,561 draft mules, and 862 pack and riding mules. Most of them were in poor condition.
The supplying of animals to the Third Army was completed by mid-December 1918, only a month after the armistice. All the other animal needs of the occupying forces were met by January 1919.
The number of animals in Germany did not change appreciably by May of the following year, but the condition of the U.S. animals with the army in Germany improved vastly.9
After January 1919, horses and mules that were “accumulating in Remount Depots and Veterinary Hospitals, … due to the nature of the wound or disease, would not become serviceable for a period of many months. Authority from G.H.Q. was finally secured to have such animals submitted to an inspector for condemnation and sale to the French Government as a result of a special contract with them at a price of 450 francs per head.”10
From that time onward, disposal of American animals proceeded via various arrangements, in France and eventually in Germany and Luxembourg. The Polish government sent a delegation to Germany to buy 5000 of the U.S. animals being excessed there. The Remount service after-action report is filled with notes about the dissatisfying prices received, which is not surprising since not only were the Americans disposing of their animals, the British were doing the same thing, though they did send some of their best and healthiest animals back across the English Channel, a short journey of a day.
Clearly, the horse and mule market in France was flooded.
Both auctions and private sales were attempted, but the sheer numbers were what drove the sales prices. And, French buyers were particular. They wanted horses or mules that they knew could be driven or ridden, and so sales where they could watch the animals being worked were more popular. Finally, they showed a preference for long manes and tails, and shaggy fetlocks – exactly the hair that the army routinely clipped off. So, hair was allowed to grow to entice buyers.11
The U.S. was not really considering bringing horses home. For one thing, there was no shortage of animals in the U.S. – there were, in fact, many horses and mules standing in remount depots stateside, already owned by the army, and most of them were also being auctioned off. The A.E.F.’s own chief veterinarian had actually advised against shipping any animals back due to the fear of contagious diseases being brought back with them.
However, a few animals did come home. A provision was made for up to 200 officer’s mounts to be returned after lengthy quarantines in both France and then again in the U.S. These were horses that had been brought into the army by their officer owners, and now were returning to civilian life.12 Another 100 publicly owned horses were also to be sent home, the thought being to return the very best of the animals then in Europe so that they could be used in Army schools in the U.S. It is unclear if any of these public animals actually made the trip back.
Ibid, Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group
Ibid, Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group
Ibid, Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group
Ibid, Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group
Operation Report of the Remount Service During World War 1, A.E.F. France, June 28, 1919. P.50.
Ibid, Remount Report, p.51.
Ibid, Remount Report.
Ibid, Remount Report., p.51-52.
Ibid, Remount Report, p.28.
Ibid, Remount Report, p.55.
Merillat, Lt. Col. Vet.-Res. Louis A. and Campbell, Lt. Col., Vet.-Res. Delwin M. Veterinary Military History of the United States. Haver-Glover Laboratories, Kansas City, MO., 1935. p. 902.
Showing Off: 6th Division Post Armistice Horse Show
The Lighter Side
Immediately after the armistice, American and British troops moved into Germany as an occupying army. Their purpose was to ensure that the German army did not attempt any further aggression, and to bring order to the country after their leaders had fled.U.S. troops in Germany, 1919.
For a long time before the armistice and for months thereafter, life for German citizens and their animals was still very difficult. Germany had for many years (even well before the war) been dependent on imports for food and materials, and their defeat was in large part brought about by a British naval blockade which prevented the import of food and fuel.
German soldiers guard a delicatessen after it was looted in 1918 prior to the armistice. Imperial War Museum photo.After the armistice the Allies maintained the blockade as a deterrent to further uprising and a means to get German leadership to sign not just a cease-fire, but an actual peace treaty. Supplies continued to be short until the blockade was lifted after the peace treaty was signed in June 1919. German animals were fed sawdust because forage was unavailable, and many starved to death.
With German citizens starving and revolts and uprisings happening in multiple cities, the occupying Allied troops were not idle. But they found time to relax, and some of their activities revolved around horses.
After the peace accord had been signed (the Treaty of Versailles, June 28, 1919), there was less reason to continue to occupy Germany, and the return of U.S. soldiers to their homes accelerated. But just as it had taken months to get soldiers to Europe, it took as long or longer to get them all home. Some of that time also was filled with horse events.
"Beautiful, High Spirited Animals"
Most of the occupying troops were in Germany by mid-December 1918 with a full complement of animals, though many animals were not in the best shape.
A motorized horse ambulance at Coblenz, Germany, 1919.When the Third Army moved to the Rhine to begin the occupation, locations were secured for veterinary hospitals at Coblenz on the Rhine River in northern Germany and at Treves, just across the border from Luxembourg in western Germany. Personnel to man them were rapidly pushed forward. Stables of knock-down type for 10,000 animals were held in readiness at Verdun for shipment to the Third Army if required.One of the Third Army veterinary hospitals in Germany.
After the first frantic month with its rapid troop movements and confusion over shifts from battle-ready troops to peace keepers, horses and mules could get the care they needed.1 At the same time. excess animals were already overflowing from both veterinary hospitals and remount depots in France.
But ironically, shipments of more animals were also being received from the U.S.
Most of these had been in transit when the armistice was declared. As the Operation Report of the Remount Service During World War 1, A.E.F. states, “high-grade animals were beginning to arrive in increasing numbers at the Base Depots from the States and as fast as transportation became available they were shipped to the various Advance Remount Depots where shoeing was completed and animals fit for immediate service were selected and sent forward.
“It might be here remarked that the quality of the horses and mules that were being received at this time from the States was a matter of great satisfaction to all officers and men in the A.E.F. who were interested in animal transportation, and, after having struggled with war-worn animals that had apparently been treated at least once for mange and other ailments, it was most refreshing to again associate with beautiful, high-spirited animals, strong and healthy, then arriving from the States.”2
A U.S. supply train on review, February 1919.The advancing army was looking for facilities to house its horses, and a short way into Germany, just across the border from Luxembourg, they found at Treves a site to meet the dreams of any horseman. The Germans had had a large cavalry facility there, with a huge indoor riding hall, stabling for over 840 horses, and even a supply of peat moss for bedding. The former German Kasernement Jager Cavalry Regiment No. 7 facility surpassed any stateside post existing at that time with the possible exception of Ft. Riley itself.Teams compete at a horse show in Germany, 1919.
Remount Squadrons No. 311 and 322 set up housekeeping immediately. There were 14 brick stables, forming a square with a drill field that was equipped with jumps. Well over 800 spacious standing stalls measured 5.5 feet wide and were separated by iron pipe kick bars suspended by chains from the ceiling.
The showgrounds at Coblenz, April 1919.The floors and mangers were of concrete, over which the peat moss bedding was spread. There was even a drainage system whereby all the urine drained into a central tank so that it could be pumped out and then sprinkled over the fields as fertilizer. Ventilation was good, with 2 foot vents every twenty feet.3
The indoor riding hall measured 250’ x 60.’ It was divided into two working spaces with a wall across the center that had a six-foot passage on either side. The flooring was a base of compacted crushed rock covered by three feet of peat moss!4
Competing at a horse show in 1919. The dream was short lived, however: by the following June, the decision had been made to consolidate all remount activities at two depots closer to Koblenz, at Kripp and Wengerohr, and Treves was abandoned.
In the meantime, other depots were organized, though with smaller capacities. The depot at Koblenz-Lutzel, housing 500 animals, also became the site of the Equitation School for the Third Army (the U.S. occupying forces). Over 500 horses were in residence, including the school horses.
Col. Garrett, the Chief Signal Officer of the 42nd Rainbow Division, with his horse "Babs" at a horse show, 1919.By the spring of 1919, everyone was ready for some fun. Horse shows were organized at the Division level, all accounted to be great successes. They led up to a show for the entire Third Army at Coblenz.
“The Horse Show at Coblenz in the Third Army was one of the best ever held in the United States Army. From April 23rd to April 27th, 1919, every variety of animal and animal transportation was shown. There were a great many other events in the carnival, but the strides made by the troops of the Third Army in caring for their animals and animal equipment was amazing.”5Winning mule team at a show, March 1919.
After the peace accord was signed at Versailles both animals and men were disbursed rapidly. Many of the horses and mules went to the local populace, to people who understood how to care for them and were happy to get healthy stock to replace the animals they had lost to starvation during the war.
The U.S. cavalrymen and officers who chose to remain in the army after the war went home to what became known as the golden age of the U.S. Cavalry, the time between the two world wars, to a time when those reflecting on life at the cavalry headquarters at Ft. Riley, Kansas coined the expression “living the life of Riley” - a life where little could be improved upon.
With its expansive and varied terrain, horse-centric culture, polo games, fox hunts, cross-country rides, horse shows, and excellent education in all things horse, Ft. Riley was everything a horseman could want.
Fortunately for the animals, the mounted cavalry never fought another war. By the time the U.S. entered World War 2, the cavalry had become mechanized.
Never again would hundreds of thousands of American horses and mules go to war.
The tragedy of WWI gave birth to a vision, and today the Brooke family of charities, including Brooke USA, form the world's largest equine welfare organization. There are approximately 100 million working horses, donkeys, and mules in the developing world, and 80% of them are suffering from preventable problems. Brooke USA-funded programs touch the lives of millions of these animals through culturally-sensitive and practical programs that provide long-lasting solutions. The animals are key to the livelihoods of their owners; by supporting the equines we also support the families who depend on them, as healthier animals help their human families earn a living. Learn more about what Brooke USA does.