The Wehrmacht’s use of horses in the Polish and Soviet Union campaigns 1939-44

Blitzkreig attacks were a logistical impossibility on the eastern front, which meant the Polish experience couldn’t be repeated. Germany relied on the Soviet Union for oil supplies, which ceased with their invasion. The wehrmacht’s early successes were a ‘winner’s curse’ as they achieved an unmanageable hostile territory five times greater than Germany itself and a nightmare of a supply chain. For example it’s 700+ miles (West-East) Warsaw-Moscow and 950 miles from Leningrad to Stalingrad (North-South)*. All of which was intensely defended by partisans. Soviet railways were a different gauge to Germany’s and their trains could only run after Soviet track was modified. The importance is that 1600 lorries, 1941 capacity, equalled one double-tracked railway line**. Soviet roads were in very poor condition and weren’t paved. As a result the Autumn rains turned them into quagmires. The logistical challenge therefore was, 1) no readily available oil supply, 2) insufficient motorised transport, 3) incompatible rail gauges, 4) very long supply lines, which were attacked by partisans and finally, 5) an integrated use of horse power, which was very slow. The wehrmacht used circa two million horses on the eastern front and this represented a logistical weakness, which is indicative of their industrial weakness relative to the USA and the Soviet Union***.

*Roughly this is 665000 square miles, which equates to 5 times larger than Germany itself. Remember Nazi Germany also had armies of occupation in the whole of western Europe; principally France, Belgium and Holland. The logistics of manpower shouldn’t be under-estimated in addition to their industrial weakness.

**Martin van Crefeld Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton p143

*** This is a very good site.

Wehrmacht cavalry invading Poland in 1939

Wehrmacht horse pulled light artillery

Waffen SS cavalry in Soviet Union

Wehrmacht horse pulled light artillery in Soviet Union

Wehrmacht provisions supplied by horse and cart in Soviet Union


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2 Responses to The Wehrmacht’s use of horses in the Polish and Soviet Union campaigns 1939-44

  1. guyportman says:

    What a wretched campaign. What was Hitler thinking?

    • odeboyz says:

      “What was Hitler thinking?”

      This is a fundamental question. I’m working on a blog for late-February ’18, which will try to answer your question. My current thinking is that Hitler was over-whelmed by hubris and firmly believed that the Wehrmacht could defeat anyone. When told about the logistics involved he seemed to believe that elan was enough. These are preliminary thoughts.

      Thank you for your comment.

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