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voltaire60

SNIPING OF HORSES

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voltaire60

 First-a plea of ignorance- I know there are any number of books  on animals in the Great War-all of which I have studiously avoided. A book by  Jilly Cooper on the subject would not be my book choice on "Desert Island Discs"

    I have come across a reference to the sniping of horses for the first time- in the War Diary of 39 Brigade RFA for 11th November 1914. All the horses of 2 ammunition wagons were shot- leading 2 batteries of artillery to pound the wood where the German snipers were thought to be -presumably to smithereens.

 

    Was this practice very common?     It seems like something hard to defend against.

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johnboy

Possibly. I seem tto remember reading that the Germans used pointed objects made of steel and designed to always have a point facing upwards to injure horses hoofs. As  one of the main means of transport horses would have been a goo target. Horse lines were vulnerable. 

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Moonraker
4 minutes ago, johnboy said:

Possibly. I seem tto remember reading that the Germans used pointed objects made of steel and designed to always have a point facing upwards to injure horses hoofs...

Caltrops.

 

Moonraker

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AOK4
2 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

Caltrops.

 

Moonraker

 

Not only the Germans used these...

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johnboy

Thanks for giving the correct word.

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Steven Broomfield

I would suspect that it was possible in the open warfare of 1914, but most sniping of horses would surely have been by long-range artillery for most of the war. In 1917, the 8th Cavalry brigade (10th Royal Hussars and Essex Yeomanry) lost around 900 horses in Monchy le Preux, some of them to MG fire but most to artillery.

 

 

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squirrel
Posted (edited)

The best way to stop mounted troops of any sort is to shoot at the horses. The loss of mobility takes away the advantage of same, although in this particular instance with the guns already in place, the sniper(s) put themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

Certainly in the Napoleonic era and before, infantry were trained to shoot at the horses when coming up against cavalry or other mounted troops. The horse is the bigger target and much easier to hit than the man riding it.

In the Sikh wars, I read one account from a Bengal  horse artillery Serjeant, that the horses of their mounted men that were shot each had an ear split apparently from the bullet which hit the rider. It seems that aiming at the horses ear (some feat in itself) when the horses were galloping with their heads forward and the rider leaning forward brought both roughly in line for a shot.

 

Edited by squirrel

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2ndCMR

Nothing new about this, ham-stringing horses was an old trick where edged weapons were in use.

 

As for the sniping of horses on ammunition wagons it would be an expedient way of at least slowing the rate of fire if the wagons were some distance from the guns and could not be brought forward.  It might also cause gunners to attempt to carry ammunition forward by hand which would bring them out from behind the gun shields and make them easier targets.  Conversely it might cause them to bring the gun horses forward and attempt to withdraw the guns to the immobile wagons, which would make both gunners and gun horses easy targets.  Once the gun horses were dead or disabled the guns themselves might well be impossible to remove and thus likely to be captured in some situations.   There are accounts of German snipers being paid bounties for certain types of kills where they were verified by an officer or NCO, though I can't put my hand on such at the moment.  If true, a sniper who caused the capture of a battery might expect to be well-rewarded.  

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HenryTheGerman

@2ndCMR, in the Great War certainly was not much opportunity to practice artillery horse sniping. Snipers operated at the very frontline but still far, far away from the rearward firing positions of the artillery. Generally, artillery horses fell victim to artillery fire.
And there was almost no usage of cavalry at the frontline. Only at the few occasions where there was cavalry support in the run of huge assaults, like during the Battle of Amiens at Aug. 08/09 1918. And soldiers did not reflect much on the question if it was more recommendable to aim to the troopers but to the horse. They just fired, hoping that they would hit the horse-and rider target in some way. In this context it is interesting to learn that even machine gun fire was not very effective against cavalry on attack. Only at short range the fire turned to be effective and at least devastating. Very recommendable: "Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 - 1918" by Stephen Badsey (2008).

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squirrel

In the more open warfare of August/September 1914 and during the 100 days 1918 there was certainly opportunity for sniping cavalry and artillery horses.

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)
On 23/05/2018 at 03:33, HenryTheGerman said:

@2ndCMR, in the Great War certainly was not much opportunity to practice artillery horse sniping. Snipers operated at the very frontline but still far, far away from the rearward firing positions of the artillery. Generally, artillery horses fell victim to artillery fire.
And there was almost no usage of cavalry at the frontline. Only at the few occasions where there was cavalry support in the run of huge assaults, like during the Battle of Amiens at Aug. 08/09 1918. And soldiers did not reflect much on the question if it was more recommendable to aim to the troopers but to the horse. They just fired, hoping that they would hit the horse-and rider target in some way. In this context it is interesting to learn that even machine gun fire was not very effective against cavalry on attack. Only at short range the fire turned to be effective and at least devastating. Very recommendable: "Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 - 1918" by Stephen Badsey (2008).

Yes, I was thinking mostly of the open warfare periods in the early and late war.  As for the effectiveness of MGs against cavalry, from what I have read it was devastating at any range it could be effectively delivered.  Of course the speed of cavalry moving through a beaten zone would require more training and skill from the gunners at extreme ranges, say 2000 yards or more where the fire would be plunging at an extreme angle and slower to reach the target, and where observation would be difficult on all but the most clear and flat ground.  Small comfort to the cavalry as they would almost inevitably have to deal with close range MG fire sooner or later unless operating as purely reconnaissance forces.

 

As you know the German Army fielded a great number of snipers from the beginning of the war, but they tended to specialize in shorter range fire, which would be less likely to be applied to artillery just by virtue of its usual distance behind the front lines. 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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Loader

In the American Civil War it was common practice to shoot down the artillery horses to prevent the battery from getting away if the need arose.

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, Loader said:

In the American Civil War it was common practice to shoot down the artillery horses to prevent the battery from getting away if the need arose.

 

Indeed, and at ranges often equal or greater than those of WWI, by virtue of the Enfield rifle and its Miné bullet. 

 

Not entirely related, but a Canadian sniper in 1918 reportedly shot the entire gun crews of a German battery of 5.9s; four guns I assume?  No doubt the guns were captured, but whether he shot the horses was not recorded. Horses of course were always worth capturing, so killing them would be undesirable and distasteful to most men anyway.

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR

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