Two horsepower, 100 years on
“Two of the large and better grade of draft horses used for siege artillery held by Captain L. Victor Fromont, commanding the 339 Regiment Field Remount Station. Quartermaster Remount Depot No.7 at Merignac, Bordeaux, France. December 10, 1918.”
Although the artillery phased out animal-based prime movers for motor vehicles in the interwar period, the last U.S. horse-mounted cavalry units did not dismount until 1942. The Remount Division still used, bred and cared for tens of thousands of horses– to include Triple Crown winner Sir Barton who was “enlisted” in the 1930s at age 17.
The horse did return in a number of limited roles throughout WWII– for instance in the case of Army troops in New Guinea, the 112th Cavalry Regiment in New Caledonia in 1942, and constabulary units in Germany in 1945– a counterpoint to those who think the horseshoe was replaced by the pneumatic tire back in the Great War. In additon, the Remount Service put a division’s worth of Coast Guardsmen on beach patrol duty.
In all, the “mechanized” U.S. Army used a whopping 140,000 horses and mules in WWII.
“The animals actually procured included the 60,000 purchased in the Zone of Interior, the 6,000 purchased or obtained by reverse lend-lease in Australia, and the many thousands which were captured, requisitioned, or received from the Allied military forces in the China-Burma-India, Mediterranean, and European theaters. In China, animals were procured for the Chinese military forces by a Sino-American Horse Purchasing Bureau whose U.S. veterinary officers were sent into far-distant Tibet. Additional animals were purchased by the U.S. Army in the Hawaiian Islands, New Caledonia, and Fiji Islands.”
The lid did not close fully until the Atomic era when hundreds of thousands of jeeps, trucks, tractors, and vehicles of all sizes and shapes were in storage and a reason for hanging on to the noble horse for operations was non-existent. The vaunted U.S Remount Program was finally disbanded in 1948 after more than two centuries of service, its assets liquidated or turned over to the Department of Agriculture.
The Army does, nonetheless, today maintain a number of horse-mounted ceremonial units and a few Special Forces ODAs, of course, put horses to good use in Afghanistan in for more than a decade.