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World War I in Photos: Animals at War

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When the war began, Europe's armies had an understanding of warfare that put the use of cavalry in high regard. Soon, however, the deadly terrain that evolved around trench warfare rendered cavalry attacks nearly useless on the Western Front. But the need for constant resupply, movement of new heavy weaponry, and the transport of troops demanded horse power on a massive scale -- automobiles, tractors, and trucks were relatively new inventions and somewhat rare. British and French forces imported horses from colonies and allies around the world, a near-constant flow of hundreds of thousands of animals across the oceans, headed for war. One estimate places the number of horses killed during the four years of warfare at nearly 8 million. Other animals proved their usefulness as well: Dogs became messengers, sentries, rescuers, and small beasts of burden. Pigeons acted as messenger carriers, and even (experimentally) as aerial reconnaissance platforms. Mules and camels were drafted into use in various war theatres, and many soldiers brought along mascots to help boost morale. Only a couple of decades later, at the onset of World War II, most military tasks assigned to animals were done by machines, and warfare would never again rely so heavily on animal power. On this 100-year anniversary, I've gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. Today's entry is part 4 of a 10-part series on World War I, which will be posted every Sunday until June 29. Come back next week for Part 5. [45 photos]

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A single soldier on his horse, during a cavalry patrol in World War I. At the start of the war every major army had a substantial cavalry, and they performed well at first. However, the development of barbed wire, machine guns and trench warfare soon made attacks from horseback far more costly and ineffective on the Western Front. Cavalry units did prove useful throughout the war in other theatres though, including the Eastern Front, and the Middle East. (National Library of Scotland)
A single soldier on his horse, during a cavalry patrol in World War I. At the start of the war every major army had a substantial cavalry, and they performed well at first. However, the development of barbed wire, machine guns and trench warfare soon made attacks from horseback far more costly and ineffective on the Western Front. Cavalry units did prove useful throughout the war in other theatres though, including the Eastern Front, and the Middle East. (National Library of Scotland)
Today's Entry on World War I is in a special new template, you can view it here.



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