Britain's military use of horses 1914-1918

May, 1993
by John Singleton


INTRODUCTION

In that understandably neglected volume, Animal War Heroes, written in 1933, the story is told of seven gun horses attached to F Battery, Royal Horse Artillery. They were shipped to France in August 1914 and took part in the retreat from Mons, the battles of First and Second Ypres, Festubert, Aubers Ridge, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Hill 70 and Cambrai, as well as the desperate campaigns of 1918, collecting a number of wounds along the way. On 8 August 1918 they further distinguished themselves by rescuing some stranded guns during a German attack. F Battery's horses survived to retire to England where they entertained friends by balancing sugar lumps on their front hoofs and tossing them into their mouths.(1)

On the eve of the Great War the British army possessed a mere 25,000 horses, but by the middle of 1917 it had 591,000 horses, 213,000 mules, 47,000 camels and 1 1,000 oxen. Between 1914 and 1920 the Remount Department spent 67.5 million [pounds] on the purchase, training and delivery to the front of horses and mules.(2) Once these animals joined their units, they needed to be fed and watered, and when they fell sick or were wounded they required and often received a high standard of veterinary care. The ability to mobilize a vast force of animals for transportation, reconnaissance and raiding purposes was crucial to the efficient conduct of war in the early twentieth century. Horses were as indispensable to the war effort as machine guns, dreadnoughts, railways and heavy artillery, yet because of our fascination with the history of technology we never give them a second thought. The only comparable study is DiNardo and Bay's account of horse-drawn transport in the German army in World War Two.(3)

The pages of the Illustrated London News show how the image of the horse's place in war evolved between 1914 and 1918. During the early months of the war, the cavalry were depicted in dashingly romantic terms, in pursuit of an ever-fleeing foe. At the battle of St Quentin, the Scots Greys and a Highland regiment were portrayed re-enacting the glorious stirrup charge of Waterloo, the text adding the unnecessary explanation that the "Germans were taken aback at the sudden and unexpected double irruption, and broke up before the Scottish onslaught ... ".(4) At later stages in the war the horse was revealed in less glamorous, but equally gallant, roles. In an illustration of 1917, entitled "Fidelity", a frightened horse was shown in no man's land, guarding the body of its dead master, "to whom it was evidently still faithful". A tank was drawn in the background, possibly as a reminder that there were dramatic changes afoot in the conduct of war.(5) Also in 1917, a powerful illustration of a battery advancing under heavy fire emphasized "the heroism of the horses ... [and their] grim fortitude", in a situation which offered no romance, but only "mud, shells, chaos, and more mud -- and death!"(6) Yet, by the end of the war, the horses of the Royal Field Artillery were depicted in an old-fashioned pose, galloping to victory with plenty of "dash and go". Britain had won, and it was possible to forget the recent past and to indulge in a celebration of the traditional imagery of the war-horse.(7)

A number of questions are addressed in the following pages. Why did the army need so many animals? Where and how did they obtain them, and did they get value for money? How did they keep them in working order? How did they dispose of wornout or surplus animals? What were the alternatives to horse and mule power? These are primarily economic issues, but they also give scope for considering the relationship between human beings and animals and their suffering in early twentieth-century warfare.

II

THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONNECTION

During most of the nineteenth century, the purchase of remounts was a matter for individual regiments and their commanding officers. There was a certain degree of competition for the best animals, and it was not unusual for commanding officers to dip into their own pockets to make sure that their units were splendidly mounted. Many military horses came from Ireland, which also developed a thriving export trade supplying the Belgian, Austrian, Russian and German armies.(8) In 1887 the army decided that this ad hoc approach was unprofessional and established a Remount Department to centralize the procurement of horses for units stationed in the United Kingdom. This reorganization was accompanied by the creation of a horse reserve. Owners were encouraged to register their animals with the authorities, promising to sell them at a fair price to the army in the event of war, in return for an annual pension of 10s. per beast. In order to advance the breeding of horses suitable for military purposes, a Royal Commission was set up in 1888 to distribute modest annual grants to the owners of good thoroughbred stallions.(9)

Despite these reforms, the start of the Boer War plunged the Remount Department into chaos. It had been accustomed to supplying about 2,500 horses each year in peacetime, but during the South African conflict it had to find a total of 217,000 horses and 94,000 mules. The reserve comprised a mere 14,500 horses, and so it was necessary for the army to enter the open market. It proved impossible to obtain sufficient animals in the British Isles, and purchasing missions were sent to the United States, Canada, Australia, the Argentine, Spain and Austria-Hungary. Overseas markets supplied about three-quarters of the army's orders for horses (excluding those acquired or captured locally) and all of its mules.(10) Many unexpected difficulties were encountered, particularly in the United States, where Boer agents succeeded in damaging a Remount Department ship with a bomb.(11)

The activities of the Remount Department were viewed with grave misgivings and their officials were accused of incompetence and corruption. In Spain the remount officers toured the bullrings to trade with gypsy mule dealers. It was the custom of many dealers to file the teeth of their animals to make them appear younger, a practice known in England as "bishoping". When thousands of animals were being bought by inexperienced agents it was inevitable that many decrepit specimens were forthcoming.(12) Some officers tried to conceal their ignorance, and refused to listen to advice from their colleagues. One is reported to have declared, as if shopping at Fortnum and Mason's: "I am not paid to haggle over prices ... I am not used to haggling over anything when buying it for myself, and I am certainly not going to do it here".(13) A special court of inquiry was formed to review the activities of the remount service, and a British captain at New Orleans was accused of taking bribes from mule dealers, although no conclusive evidence was found to substantiate this charge.(14)

Judged by the price and quantity of the animals purchased, the department's performance did not seem quite so bad. The average sum paid for a cavalry horse during the Boer War was 25 [pounds]. 10s. in the United States, 28 [pounds] in Canada and 15 [pounds] in Australia, compared with 45 [pounds] in Britain. Adding freight charges, Australian horses were delivered to Cape Town at a cost of 30 [pounds]. 3s. a head. Britain's capacity to call upon the equine resources of the Americas, Australasia and Europe enabled it to keep down prices in the home market, which rose by a modest 15 per cent during the war.(15) There were bitter complaints about the quality of the horses and mules used in South Africa, but contemporary veterinary analysis suggests that the Remount Department was not to blame. Animals were not given adequate time to adjust to South African conditions before being sent to field units. Foreign and colonial horses fared worst of all because British troopers did not understand their different temperaments and dietary requirements.(16) The Remount Department learnt its trade reasonably well during the Boer War, and this stood it in good stead in times when the demand for its services was even greater.

After the return of peace in 1902, the horse reserve was increased to 25,000 and somewhat more generous grants were made to the breeding industry. There were unsuccessful calls for controls on the export of horses, and for action to restrict the development of mechanical transport, which it was feared would lead to a fall in the number of draught-horses suitable for conscription in an emergency.(17)

Developments in Germany were watched with growing interest. As in Britain, the tradition in Germany had been for each unit to buy its own horses. A new system was introduced in 1900, however, involving a regular census and inspection of all horses in the country. Beasts were graded and a picture built up of the nation's horse stock. A horse muster commission was established in each corps to draw up detailed orders for the impressment of animals. These orders would be carried out prior to the full implementation of Germany's mobilization plan.(18) British observers were impressed by Germany's national stud, the primary function of which was to ensure an adequate supply of good-quality riding- and draught-horses for the army. The services of these excellent animals, many of which were imported from the United Kingdom, were made available at subsidized rates to the owners of mares. Other subsidies were offered, and it was the policy of the German army not to quibble about the price asked for an animal: "giving a small breeder more than he demanded was not unknown if the animal appeared more valuable than the owner supposed it".(19) In the early 1900s the net cost to the German taxpayer of these schemes was 190,000 [pounds] per annum, while the British government subsidized horse breeding to the tune of a mere 5,000 [pounds] per annum, rising to 40,000 [pounds] in 1911.(20) Many considered the British policy to be extremely foolish, but the Boer War had shown that it was possible for a nation which controlled the sea-lanes to obtain large numbers of horses at modest prices from all corners of the globe. Britain could afford to neglect domestic breeding to a greater extent than could Germany.

As the prospect of a European war loomed on the horizon, the Remount Department and the police conducted an inventory of horses in 1911-12, in order to select 130,000 horses which could be called up in an emergency. Under the Army Act it was possible to impress horses on payment of a fair price, subject to the owner's right of appeal to the county court. Most horse owners were willing to co-operate with the inspectors, but there were a few exceptions, such as Farmer Knox of Upper Baynton Farm near Westbury, who refused to allow an officer from the Wiltshire Regiment to see his stables until threatened with a search warrant.(21)

Britain and Germany had revolutionized their techniques for procuring army horses in the decades leading up to 1914. The British relied on drawing in supplies from the wider world, while the Germans attempted to stimulate domestic production by artificial methods. Avner Offer, in his work on the agrarian origins of the Great War, shows that Britain and Germany tended to adopt these divergent strategies over a wide range of economic issues.(22) But the overall emphasis given to horses in the plans of both countries was by no means anachronistic. Warfare was remarkably horse-intensive in the early twentieth century, and in the German army the ratio of horses to men had risen from one to four in 1870 to one to three in 1914.(23)

III

TO MARKET

Just as the demands of the Boer War had far exceeded the Remount Department's expectations, so did those of the First World War. The initial phase of mobilization passed off without any serious hitches. Before the war a list of retired officers willing to help in the horse mobilization programme had been drawn up. These gentlemen received urgent telegrams on 3 August. Colonel McFall, the district purchasing officer for Waterford, was told to "be at your post pay begins from noon today".(24) It was hard work and McFall was soon suffering from insomnia. Within twelve days the British army had successfully impressed 165,000 horses.(25) The large haulage companies and municipalities were among the major suppliers of animals, although the demise of the horse bus meant that the London bus companies were less prominent than they had been in 1899. The railway companies had secured the exemption of their horses from compulsory purchase, arguing that they could be of greater help to the war effort in conveying soldiers and their equipment to the stations.(26) In Germany, the mobilization scheme was on a far larger scale and involved the acquisition of 615,000 horses.(27)

The British army may have paid over the odds for some of the animals drafted in August 1914. Given the urgency of the situation mistakes were inevitable. The War Office indicated that 70 [pounds] was the appropriate price for an officer's charger, but there were a number of cases in which sums between 110 [pounds] and 200 [pounds] were paid. In order to deflect criticism, the army pointed out that its price-lists were merely guide-lines, but it could not deny that some purchases were of an "extravagant nature". In Ireland, the problems were more serious. Many unsuitable horses had been bought, particularly in southern Ireland, where 12 per cent of them had to be resold to the public, compared with 0.3 per cent of the horses obtained in England. This state of affairs was attributed to a combination of the inexperience of purchasing agents and the craftiness of the Irish, who substituted inferior horses for those which the British thought they had bought. It was estimated that 53,000 [pounds] was wasted in these Irish transactions and as a result of inadequate facilities in the reception depots.(28)

After August 1914 the British army did not attempt to make further large-scale compulsory purchases and chose to rely on the market mechanism. Between 1914 and 1920 the army acquired a total of 469,000 horses within the United Kingdom. It appears that in some situations officers were not permitted to offer more than a certain price, for example 75 [pounds] in the case of shire-horses.(29) [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] But detailed figures for the prices actually paid are not available, making it difficult to come to any firm conclusions about the responsiveness of the market to the huge increase in the army's annual demand for horses. In the table a proxy measure is used, namely the price of draught-horses bought by the Great Northern and Great Eastern Railways. Although series of this nature must be treated with caution, it seems that the overall rate of increase in the price of railway horses between 1910-13 and 1918 was not substantially different from that of the Board of Trade's wholesale price index. During the middle years of the war, railway horses were cheap in relation to other commodities, but between 1917 and 1918 there was a rapid increase in horse prices. A very similar pattern can be observed in the prices of Clydesdales at the Lanark October sales during the war.(30) Several factors may have contributed to these price movements, such as the high elasticity of overseas supplies in the early years of the war, the increasing pressure on shipping in 1917 and 1918, and the steady depletion of the domestic stock of animals.

The effect on other sectors of the loss of so many animals is difficult to deduce with any certainty. Peter Dewey argues that the shortage of horses forced farmers to work their remaining animals much harder and to experiment with tractors. Breeding mares had to be used for work in the fields, a practice which reduced both the numbers and quality of the next generation. Later in the war, a few convalescent horses from the front were used in prisoner-of-war ploughing camps, and 10,000 surplus and worn-out army horses were bought by the Food Production Department for use on farms.(31)

Considerable efforts were made to obtain animals from overseas. After the initial engagements in France, which were alarmingly expensive in terms of horse-flesh, the British turned their thoughts to the procurement of remounts for the six new armies which they intended to raise. The first four of these armies would require a grand total of 245,000 horses to bring them up to strength. In September 1914 the director of remounts, Colonel Birkbeck, informed the quartermaster general that the United Kingdom could supply 68,000 horses for the new armies but thereafter, "Our home resources are ... exhausted, [and] unless we are seriously to interfere with the distributing trade ... We must therefore import 177,000 animals". He regretted that the new armies would have to rely on mules for some forms of transport, although it was hoped that they would not be reduced to employing mules in gun teams.(32)

Although Australia and South America were expected to help, North America was to be the main source of supply and provided 429,000 horses and 275,000 mules before the armistice.(33) When the war began, the British wondered whether the Americans' policy of neutrality would interfere with the purchase of animals. But they had nothing to fear, and by November 1914 British remount delegations were established at Kansas City, Denver, St Louis, Chicago and Fort Worth. Since such huge numbers of horses and mules were required, the British operated through firms of dealers. Animals were collected together at large inland depots before being sent by train to convenient ports such as New Orleans for embarkation. On this occasion, there appear to have been no allegations that British officers had dealt corruptly. When the Americans entered the war in 1917 a joint committee was set up with the British to co-operate in the purchasing and shipping of animals. Between 1914 and 1918 a cargo of between 500 and 1,000 animals left for Europe every one-and-a-half days, and the British spent a total of 36.5 million [pounds] on animal purchasing and administration in North America.(34) However, the United States had a stock of approximately 21 million farm horses and could easily absorb these large British purchases. Moreover agricultural horses were facing growing competition from tractors. The Great War had no appreciable effect on American horse prices, which fell slightly between 1914 and 1918.(35)

Shipping these animals could be a dangerous and costly business. A handful of horse transports were attacked by the Germans. On the Atlantic run 6,600 horses and mules were sunk and sixty-three killed by enemy shell-fire in the course of the war. But the overall rate of loss in transit was less than it had been in the Boer War, largely as a result of the use of ships which had been specially converted for carrying animals, and better veterinary and feeding arrangements. The main problem was one of space in this period of acute shipping shortage. Horses and mules needed to stretch their legs and, if conditions were too cramped, as they had been on many of the vessels taking horses to South Africa, they were liable to injure themselves. Officials of the American Expeditionary Force calculated that animals took up almost seven times as much room per short ton as the average wartime cargo.(36)

The cost of shipping animals from the United States was approximately 10 [pounds] per head, or 25 per cent of their value, according to estimates made in 1914. Since it was hoped that light draught-horses could be bought for 40 [pounds] in America, compared with 50 [pounds] in England, these freight charges would have brought the cost of American animals roughly into line with those of British animals.(37) It has not been possible to discover the freight charges which actually prevailed in later years. But, taking into account the rise in the ratio of British to American horse prices during the war, American horses would have been an even better buy in 1918, in the absence of an astronomical increase in shipping costs.

When the animals landed in England they were sent to remount depots for training and to await their orders for France. This was a further improvement over Boer War procedures, when horses were unloaded at Cape Town and put on to trains for the war zone as soon as possible. In the Great War animals were given more time to adjust to a new climate and diet before they were expected to face the enemy. The existing remount depots in 1914 were very small and only accommodated a few hundred horses each. During the winter of 1914-15 an expansion programme was instituted, and a large new depot was opened at Romsey with space for up to 5,000 animals. At such depots animals were fattened up after their arduous journeys and introduced to their military duties. The spread of contagious diseases was a particular problem on long sea voyages and it was sensible to cure sick beasts before sending them to the front.(38) When the time came for taking a batch to France there was panic in the depots. Major Boileau of Swaythling remount depot wrote an exasperated letter to his wife on one such occasion in 1915: "we are sending over thirteen shiploads this week ... The Colonel is going off his head and we don't know what will be his next "crank"'.(39)

The British Remount Department also supplied animals to other armies, including the Canadians, Belgians, Australians, New Zealanders and Portuguese, and even provided the American Expeditionary Force with 18,000 beasts. It made sound economic sense to centralize the purchasing and distribution of animals. When the New Zealand Expeditionary Force set sail for the Old World it was accompanied by its own horses. Before long, it was recognized that reinforcing the army with remounts from New Zealand would be wasteful of shipping, since similar animals could be supplied by the British.(40) As a result, the Remount Department became a major multinational business and was the leading player in the inter-continental horse trade.

Once again, the contrast between the experiences of the British and the Germans is instructive. The only means by which the Germans could import large numbers of horses was through the conquest of foreign territory. The French estimated that the number of horses, mules and asses in the districts occupied by the Germans fell by 375,000 during the war. The Ardennes draught-horses would have been particularly useful to the German transport and artillery departments.(41) Germany also obtained 140,000 horses from the Ukraine during the war. But these sources of supply were not comparable to those available to Britain. In the debates about the possible withdrawal of forces from the east for use in France in the autumn of 1918, the need to maintain horse deliveries was stressed by Ludendorff: "the Ukraine is absolutely necessary to us ... We could not carry on the war in the west without horses from the Ukraine".(42) Germany had no access to world horse markets and was seriously hampered in its ability to prosecute an animal-intensive war against seafaring countries such as the United Kingdom.

IV

INTO ACTION

In Wipers, where the whizz-bangs dance,

I mused upon the Great Advance.

. . .

Our freshest troops, our A.S.C.

It was that gave us victory!

. . .

Wagon on wagon, team on team,

I watched their quarter-locks agleam,

Mad squadrons of my whiskied dream.

|Whips over' on each 'heavy draught'

They leaped the wire; and, leaping, laughed;

Then furious with uplifted crops

Hacked their red path through Clonmel Copse.(43) In France and Flanders, as on all other fronts, horses and mules were required for two basic purposes. Some animals were needed to pull guns and wagons and carry packages, while others were supposed to wait patiently for the artillery and infantry to breach the enemy positions and then dash through and cut off their escape. During the peak month of August 1917, the British had 368,000 horses and 82,000 mules on the western front. One-third of these were for riding and the others were draught- or pack-animals.(44)

Horse transport played an essential role in maintaining the lines of communication. Supplies for British field units were taken by train from the channel ports to railheads approximately ten to twelve miles from the trenches. At the railheads they were unloaded on to motor trucks, or sometimes light railways, to be transported to an assembly point about five miles from the front line. The combat divisions collected their supplies from these advance depots and brought them forward by horse or mule power. Horses were used to pull the divisional supply trains because the last few miles of road were so badly cratered that they were impassable to all motor vehicles, except the heavy artillery's caterpillar tractors. At the battalion level, supplies were put in sacks and shifted by carrying parties.(45)

Each divisional supply train consisted of about 450 men, 375 animals and 200 wagons. Where possible it moved at night to remain invisible. The dangers encountered by such a column were vividly described by an American observer: "Day and night it is almost constantly under fire. A German gunner would rather pot' a food column than a trench, because it works a greater hardship. I have seen roads strewn with the debris of wrecked supply wagons and black with the bodies of dead horses".(46) According to John Glubb, experienced transport horses did not worry about shelling, and only gave "a plunge" when one exploded nearby.(47) They stuck to their task with remarkable stoicism, and one mule team driver, who was deaf, recollected that he knew when his mules were under fire because they *****ed up their ears.(48)

After a hard day's work, in muddy conditions, it could take up to twelve hours to clean the horses and their harnesses.(49) At Flers on the Somme, in October 1916, horses were used to pull makeshift sledges carrying the wounded, because the mud was so bad that stretcher parties could barely walk.(50) The war diary of an Australian artillery unit at Passchendaele records that on one occasion the "whole eight batteries were as close to the Zonnebeke road as possible in the hope of getting ammunition up . . . many horses, on the short stretch . . . from the road to the battery, 80 yards of ground, sank down out of sight, the driver just keeping the head up until assistance arrived".(51) As the British advanced in the final weeks of the war, their motor transport was bogged down in the craters of the old front lines, and the army became increasingly dependent on horse transport to maintain a supply of ammunition and food to the forward units. At such a time, the horse also possessed the advantage of being able to run on an empty tank, at least for a short period.(52) Animals also formed the backbone of the transport services in other war zones. In the Sinai desert, for example, motor lorries sunk into the sand and large numbers of camels were pressed into service.(53)

Although the intensive use of animals in transportation is understandable, the wisdom of deploying cavalry in 1914 has been widely questioned. Most infantrymen viewed the cavalry with derision:

C is for the CAVALRY who, (so I've heard say)

Have not seen their gee-gees for many a day,

But soon they will mount them and gallop away,

And we'll all say good-bye to the trenches.(54) Brian Bond argues that nobody seriously expected mounted units to attack well-defended positions. On the other hand, horsemen were invaluable for reconnaissance and liaison duties, and cavalry detachments, fighting as mounted infantry, had demonstrated their worth in the Boer War. Moreover, in favourable circumstances, cavalry formations could launch deep raids against the enemy's communications.(55) Admittedly, horses were useless in the trenches' but the prospect of a breakthrough and a return to mobile warfare could never be ruled out. The generals adjusted to the new environment by reducing the size of the cavalry relative to other arms. Ludendorff records that the less distinguished German cavalry regiments were split up, the men going into the trenches, and the horses into the artillery and transport services. The proportion of British soldiers in cavalry regiments fell from 9 per cent in 1914 to just 1 per cent in 1918.(56)

Douglas Haig remained convinced that, in the long run, the traditional pattern of mobile warfare would be resumed. As German resistance crumbled in the autumn of 1918, he was able to unleash his beloved cavalry to considerable effect. In November the cavalry was by far the most mobile arm of the British land forces and succeeded in keeping contact with the Germans. Haig wrote exultantly: "[if] I had at my disposal a much larger force of cavalry the fruits of victory would have been more rapidly gained".(57) This may have been wishful thinking, but at least the cavalry had shown its mettle.

Frequent calls were made during the war for economies in the use of horses. In November 1915 the prime minister, Asquith, reminded the army of the need for a stringent control over expenditure, remarking that he thought horses had "played an unexpectedly small part in this war".(58) Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war, ordered the appointment in 1916 of a committee to report on ways of reducing the number of horses. The Army Council commented that it was already using bicycles wherever possible and expressed its strong opposition to civil servants meddling in military matters. It seems that the government's main thrusts were aimed at the cavalry and the provision of officers' chargers, but it also suggested the more widespread use of motor transport. Haig replied with an irate defence of the cavalry, arguing that any cuts would have a catastrophic effect on the army's fighting capacity.(59) The War Committee retaliated by cutting back on the allocation of shipping for remounts, and in August the quartermaster general commented that this had led to a severe shortage of animals at the front. There were further clashes in early 1917, when the minister of shipping, Sir Joseph Maclay, confronted Haig at his headquarters. But the army defied most attempts by politicians and civil servants to secure economies in the use of horses and mules, and the stock of military animals increased from 535,000 in 1915 to 870,000 in 1917.(60)

The contribution of animals, especially to the transport services and artillery, was of central importance during the Great War. Without them, the guns would have run out of ammunition, the infantry would have missed breakfast, the distribution of mail would have ceased, and many urgent casualties could not have been evacuated from the battle zone. Without horses, the British army would have disintegrated.

V

MECHANICAL ALTERNATIVES

Military intellectuals, such as Basil Liddell Hart and J. F. C. Fuller, attacked the British army of the 1920s and 1930s on the grounds that it was unduly influenced by cavalry officers who were temperamentally opposed to mechanization. In recent years considerable doubt has been cast upon this view by scholars who argue, first, that there was no horsy clique calling the tune at Horse Guards and, secondly, that the pace of mechanization in the British army, particularly in the transport corps and artillery, compared favourably with that elsewhere in Europe.(61)

Any charge that the British army was technologically backward in the earlier period, between 1900 and 1920, would be equally difficult to sustain. As early as 1901, the army conducted trials near Aldershot with steam-powered and petrol-driven lorries. At this stage it was by no means obvious that horses and motor vehicles would be substitutes rather than complements in military operations. The report on the Aldershot experiments was very encouraging. A five-ton lorry could do the work of three horse-drawn wagons, and it did not get tired when asked to climb hills.(62) But the internal combustion engine had a poor record of reliability, and in 1914 the British army could muster a mere 507 assorted motor vehicles.(63)

Hundreds of vehicles were requisitioned and purchased in August 1914 to accompany and reinforce the British Expeditionary Force. They soon saw action, and a squadron of British vans carrying soldiers' rations successfully charged a troop of German cavalry during the retreat from Mons. During the first phase of the war there was no standardization of models, and mechanical transport depots in France had to stock 32,000 different spare parts.(64) The director of remounts was among the advocates of a greater role for mechanical transport, and argued that a lengthy war would exhaust the world's reserves of horses.(65) Fortunately, the director's fears were not borne out, and the supply of horses did not falter, but it was a different story in Germany. General Ludendorff remarked that by 1917: "Our horses were getting worse and worse, and remounts came forward slowly. We had to make lorries to replace horse transport, although here, too, we were met with difficulties in the supply of material".(66) Wherever the Germans turned, they were confounded by shortages of basic war supplies.

By the time of the armistice, British forces around the world were equipped with 57,000 lorries and tractors, 23,000 cars and vans, and 7,000 motor ambulances. Among the more successful vehicles were the Rolls Royce armoured cars used by the navy in Flanders and by Lawrence in Arabia, and the 30,000 Model T Fords which became the standard light troop transports, patrol cars, and vans.(67) Perhaps the army's most urgent requirement was for a vehicle which could pull heavy guns through the most difficult terrain. This problem was solved by the caterpillar tractors being developed by the French and the Americans.(68) The American Holt tractor proved to be the toughest machine and was extensively adopted by the British. General Allenby's Egyptian Expeditionary Force had 288 Holt tractors and used them to pull his siege-guns through the hills to Jerusalem to subjugate the Turks.(69)