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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Why quick release buckles on harness?


Blackwater

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Hi, I have a horse harness (goes around belly) from WW1. Person I got it from said it had quick release buckles in case the horse was in danger/ injured/ under fire. I was wondering if anyone knows if that was the reason or if it was to speed up harnessing/ unharnessing which seems more likely from my research. Thanks for any opinions, knowledge or pointers in the right direction! Sorry, I don't have a photo but I have established that harnesses (or the traces) had these quick release buckles, just wondering what was the reason for this. 

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The quick release harness allowed an injured animal to be quickly removed from the team. For all light field artillery (18-pr, 13-pr 4.5-in how) a team of 6 horses as 3 pair was used.

A field gun, represents a team operation, with limber ammunition limber and ammunition wagon. Together with drivers, and gunner, CP crew, forward fire observer and the signallers allowing the observers to communicate to the CP. If any one element is injured the system must be able to keep functioning.

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A lot of people think that the gun and limber is all that there is to the primary unit on the battlefield. The limber only carries a small amount of ammunition, in the case of the 18-pr it carries 24 rounds. So for each gun there is either one or two ammunition limber & wagon teams. The ammunition limber carries 38 rounds and the ammunition wagon carries an additional 38 rounds. So if there is just one ammunition limber & wagon set with a gun then there are 100 rounds immediately available for the gun, but this requires 12 horses in two teams and 6 "drivers" to manage the horses. Add the crew of the gun to this and then for 4 or 6 guns in a battery the command post (CP) team to communicate with the forward observers, communicate with brigade or divisional HQ for command direction and do all the calculations for fire control (receiving all the data, then calculating bearings and direction to the target, then correcting the settings for air temperature, wind and humidity to generate the actual settings to be placed onto the prismatic sights and clinometers for the control of indirect fire). This all leads into why there are so many soldiers in a Field Artillery Brigade, for a comparatively small number of field guns.

 

Most European armies were still heavily focussed on their nineteenth century experience of managing field artillery on annual exercises and the vulnerability of a gun to the loss of a single horse was not well appreciated. Britain however had the recent experiences of the 2nd Boer War. At that time they had been using two patterns of draught harness; the Army Service Corps Pattern of 1890 and the Royal Artillery Pattern of 1890. Both of these were fairly similar, based on a neck collar, Italian hemp rope traces with leather casings over the high wear points of the rope. Neither featured quick release buckles. A lot of things went wrong in South Africa, particularly for the field artillery. From that experience RA1890 harness was replaced with RA1904 draught harness, which featured breast collars replacing neck collars, construction with braided steel wire rope traces, wrapped in leather casings. And quick release buckles on the traces. Additionally, a spare set of traces was carried, strapped to the foot board of the limber, in case the harness could not be recovered from the injured horse.

Chers

RT.

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Once again, I'm impressed with the depth of knowledge on the Forum.  Marvellous, and thanks for posting.

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I absolutely agree. Fantastic to hear from subject specialists who willingly share their knowledge. Thanks again Chasemuseum. This information has been great. I feel I really understand this now rather than the original information I had which was that the design was for animal welfare reasons which seemed unlikely to me. Much appreciated. 

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RT that is superb information, thanks for posting.

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Thank-you for the compliments.

Our societies have moved so far from horse transport that it's hard to appreciate the practical limitations of the technology.

There is the popular meme that "amateurs talk tactics, experts talk logistics".  This is being played out so obviously in the war in the Ukraine. 

For an understanding of the Great War, it is essential to try to understand the logistical problems. Key to this for the BEF on the Western Front are the limitation of Channel Crossing, broad gauge railway, narrow gauge rail, transport and horse transport and how these integrate with each other.

There is a transport volume of the British Official history of the war. This focusses almost exclusively on the broad gauge rail and movements across the Channel. Its a superb reference. Unfortunately for transport from the rail heads to the front lines there is a general lack of holistic studies. Over the last 20 years a number of specialist books have been produced which are starting to bring the picture together, but it's so much harder when the people involved have passed on and so many of the records have been destroyed.

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