AcademiaAgriculture & FarmingHumanitiesSocial SciencesSTEM

World War 1 History: Russian Wolves, Business as Usual and War Horses

Updated on July 21, 2016
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

The Glorious Dead

The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London was constructed to commemorate British soldiers who died in the 1914-1918 War, but later changed to honor the dead in all wars.
The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London was constructed to commemorate British soldiers who died in the 1914-1918 War, but later changed to honor the dead in all wars. | Source

The three stories in this article are not in many histories of the Great War and are not generally well-known or well-documented, yet I feel they are quite evocative. Since they are so short, I decided to put them into a single article. Their only relationship to each other is that they are all connected to the 1914-1918 War, and that they all show, in their own small way, the horror and absurdity that is war.

Wolf in winter.
Wolf in winter. | Source
WW1: Russian troops in a rear-guard trench awaiting a German attack on the Eastern Front.
WW1: Russian troops in a rear-guard trench awaiting a German attack on the Eastern Front. | Source

Russian Wolves

In the winter of 1916-1917, the Eastern Front stretched for more than a thousand miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. During that winter, half-starved Russian wolves converged on both the German and Russian lines in the northern part of the front in the Vilnius-Minsk region. As their desperation increased beyond their fear of humans, the wolves started attacking individuals but were soon attacking groups of soldiers so viciously and often that something had to be done. The soldiers tried poisoning them, shooting them with their rifles and machine guns and even using grenades against them, but the large and powerful Russian wolves were so hungry, fresh wolf packs simply replaced those that were killed.

The situation grew so severe that the Russian and German soldiers convinced their commanders to allow temporary truce negotiations to enable them to deal with the animals more effectively. Once the terms were worked out, the fighting stopped and the two sides discussed how to resolve the situation. Finally, a coordinated effort was made and gradually the packs were rounded up. Hundreds of wolves were killed during the process while the rest scattered, leaving the area once and for all to the humans. The problem was solved, the truce was called off and the soldiers got back to killing each other properly.

WW1 Artillery fuses exhibited in the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
WW1 Artillery fuses exhibited in the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. | Source
A Vickers Ltd advertisement showing its varied armaments capabilities. June 1914 (one month before war broke out).
A Vickers Ltd advertisement showing its varied armaments capabilities. June 1914 (one month before war broke out). | Source
WW1: Making guns for the German Army and Navy in one of Krupp's factories. Circa 1915.
WW1: Making guns for the German Army and Navy in one of Krupp's factories. Circa 1915. | Source

Business As Usual

In 1902, Vickers, the British armaments firm, needed a timer fuse for their artillery shells. To be most effective against troops in the open or hunkered down in trenches, the shells needed to explode just above the enemy instead of exploding in the ground, which absorbed some of the impact and shrapnel. It just so happened that Krupp, the giant German armaments company, had one of the best timer fuses in the business. A deal was struck whereby Krupp licensed Vickers to produce the Krupp timer fuse at one shilling and threepence a fuse.

When war broke out in 1914, Vickers and Krupp, as well as other firms, were kept busy for the duration, arming and supplying their respective countries with everything needed to wage war. Business was good. But all good things must come to an end and, in 1918, the fighting stopped. While business dropped off for Vickers, Krupp was nearly ruined by the Versailles Treaty which practically demilitarized Germany.

In 1921, Vickers was sent a claim for £260,000 for the use of the Krupp fuse patent during the war. Krupp, desperate for cash, had estimated that, for every two artillery shells fired, one German soldier had died and, therefore, with 2,080,000 dead German soldiers, 4,160,000 Vickers' shells with the Krupp-patented fuse were fired. At one shilling and threepence apiece, that came to £260,000 Vickers owed them. Vickers contested the claim as far too large, although their record-keeping regarding the fuse had been haphazard during the giddy war years. Negotiations and arbitrations dragged on for years until, in 1926, Vickers made Krupp an offer. By their reckoning, only 640,000 artillery shells had been fired and therefore they owed only £40,000. By Krupp's calculations that meant that the average British shell had killed more than thee German soldiers, which was preposterous, but the economy in Germany was in tatters and paper money was useful only as fuel to keep warm. Vickers was offering to pay the settlement in 440,000 gold marks, a fortune in Germany. And, as they say, “losers can't be choosers”. Krupp took the money, which cynics said was payment for each German soldier killed. War may demand the ultimate sacrifice, but business is business.

WW1: The Battle of the Somme, 1 July – 18 November 1916 Battle of Bazentin Ridge 14 -17 July: The Deccan horse drawn up in ranks in the Carnoy Valley waiting for the opportunity to attack.
WW1: The Battle of the Somme, 1 July – 18 November 1916 Battle of Bazentin Ridge 14 -17 July: The Deccan horse drawn up in ranks in the Carnoy Valley waiting for the opportunity to attack. | Source
The Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London commemorates the countless animals that have served and died under British military command throughout history.
The Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London commemorates the countless animals that have served and died under British military command throughout history. | Source

War Horses

During the war, roughly a million horses (including mules) were sent to France, mainly from Britain, Canada and the United States. Some of these were cavalry horses to be used when the great breakthrough occurred. Though there were cavalry charges, it was obvious even to most generals that cavalry had seen its day; machine guns, barbed wire and trenches saw to that. Still, even as late as 1916, during the battle of the Somme, the 7th Dragoon Guards, armed with lances, charged the German trenches on their noble steeds, pennants flying. Machine guns cut them down, man and beast, but even so, a few made it to the German lines, skewering the Hun on their lances, still under fire. The few survivors trickled back to the British lines.

Horses and mules performed many other tasks besides charging uselessly against the entrenched enemy. In fact, they were essential to the war effort, pulling wagons loaded with supplies or wounded soldiers, dragging artillery and generally providing muscle in the barren, often-times muddy moonscape of the front. They stood exposed to the elements for days on end. Sometimes fodder was in short supply. They were overloaded, their saddle sores often neglected. Like their human masters they were shot, shelled, gassed and bombed, but with a poor brute's incomprehension of the horrific world they inhabited. By the time the fighting was over, the Great War had killed nearly half a million horses and mules. Of the roughly half million that survived, only 62,000 returned. The rest ended up on French dinner tables.

Warhorses of World War 1 (Trailer)

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Another interesting Hub! I love to read these word pictures of the irrationality of war! It confirms my opinion that war is stupid, stupid.

      Where do you get so many interesting details from? I find your arrticles fascinating and so alive. Congratulations. Voted Up, etc.

    • dmop profile image

      dmop 5 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      All three of these stories are just amazing, especially Russian Wolves. That is so sad to me; that they would literally call a truce just to destroy the wolf population so they could more safely kill each other. I enjoyed the irony of the stories very much and I gave them a vote up, all but funny, and shared.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi UH. A great three parter here. All are interesting and informative as usual. The Krupp / Vickers story seems incredible. We are never told what is really going on. voted up.

      Albion.

    • leenamartha profile image

      Leena Martha 5 years ago from USA

      they would literally call a truce just to destroy the wolf population so they could more safely kill each other.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      joanveronica, thanks so much for your kind comment. Sometimes I think I spend too much time looking for inspiration, but I guess my mind snags on interesting tidbits. These have been tucked away-- the Krupp thing for decades-- so I decided to investigate. The wolf episode was triggered from a sentence in a wikipedia article.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      dmop, I absolutely agree. The truce of the wolves shows the irony and absurdity of war. It's terrible what happened to the wolves; it was terrible what the soldiers had to face: being shot, stabbed, blown apart-- or eaten. I bet there weren't many generals on the menu.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Old Albion, thanks for commenting. I remember reading that bit about Krupp a long, long time ago. It put me on notice even then that there are different moral rules for corporations and the super rich. I wish I could say it was an aberration but, yes, it is amazing what goes on.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      leenamartha, thank you for reading and commenting. It is absurd isn't it? Humans aren't the only victims of war. Can you imagine a loyal horse dragging wagons through mud, ice and dust, year after year under bombardment only to be slaughtered for food?

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Such irony! It's details like this that really capture the atmosphere of a time and a war. Thanks for SHARING!

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      UH...good hub, voted up, useful, interesting. Of all the tactical military mistakes down through history, WWI gets the prize for the Stupidest Way To Fight A War Award in my book. I wonder if any of these guys read about the latter part of the American Civil War...like Cold Harbor and Spotsylvania Courthouse? Oh, well...enjoy the weekend.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Melis Ann. It's like a bizarre, never-ending horror film. If only those who wanted wars fought the wars.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Civil War Bob, thanks for commenting. I think the British leaders partly wanted to show the Germans that the British weren't afraid of eduring heavy casualties and were a major force to be reckoned with so the Germans would have to keep more men on the Western Front allowing the Russians to hold the Eastern Front. Whatever. Attrition warfare, whether in World War One or Vietnam, is immoral. When I watched film reels as a kid, I couldn't believe they got men to leave the trenches and walk against machine guns. But what does a kid know?

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 5 years ago from Singapore

      Great hub. very informative. As a soldier it was wonderful info for me

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      "Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them."

      Easy for me to say; not so simple to do, especially if you are fighting someone about the same level of competence who is trying to do exactly the same thing. Are there times attrition warfare happens because the alternative is surrender? I am no expert on WWI and would be interested in your comments along this line. Or maybe you've already got a Hub about it?

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Thank you, MG Singh, for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image
      Author

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      aethelthryth, the problem with war is terrible things happen (how's that for insight). While attrition is a horrible thing, it does sometimes have an effect. The Germans first dismissed the British Expeditionary Force as "contemptible", which the Battle of Mons proved them wrong-- and the BEF proudly called themselves the "Old Contemptibles"). However, the scale of continental armies was such that the Germans were only truly alarmed when the British generals showed they were just as willing as they were to take hundreds of thousands of casualties-- mostly "other ranks", of course. I'm still not saying I agree with the war of attrition-- there must be a better way. At what point is it worth losing 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day for a few square miles of dirt?

      I don't think the alternative was surrender, but since you bring it up, I'm not sure it was worth killing all those soldiers to "win" the war. I think it's possible that if either side had given up, say in 1915, this might be a better world today. Who knows?

    Click to Rate This Article