by Richard M. Clement, Jr.
interview was taken from the Die Neue
Feldpost newsletter & was done
so with permission of the publisher.
We would like to thank him for his
generosity as well as thank all those who
have contributed to this article. It
is with their efforts, we are able to share
this valuable research with the rest of you.
Maier was one of those veterans who is a
master of understatement. In fact, I
had already known him for a number of years
before one day he casually mentioned to me
that he "took part in that nasty
business". After months of gentle
prodding he off-handedly stated that he
spent almost two years on the Eastern Front,
including that first winter. Then he
mentioned that he was in Normandy! At
any rate, the following interview is a
compilation of perhaps a dozen casual
conversations and one 30-minute taped
did you get into the Wehrmacht?
I was drafted into the Heer, or
German Army. The Heer was part
of the Wehrmacht. I was raised in a
place called Brüx in what is
Czechoslovakia. The Czechs call that
town Most. I was in the Czech Army
from the spring of 1932 until the spring of
1934, I was in the Czech veterinary school
for most of 1933. My last rank was Korporal,
or a sergeant, equivalent to a German Unteroffizier.
The Germans drafted me in 1941. I was
put in the veterinary corps.
were sent to the Eastern Front?
Yes, I got there in the late fall of
1941, I was assigned to the Veterinärkompanie
of the 35th Infantry Division. Most of
these men were Schwabisch, or from
the southwest corner of Germany where they
speak that language. I could barely
understand some of their blabber, they have
their own dialect. That winter near
Moscow was terrible. I went to Poland
then I was transferred to the 305th
horses suffered greatly on the Eastern
Front, and their suffering seems to have
been forgotten. We were treating more
horses for pneumonia and frostbite that for
battle injuries. Horses could also
suffer from exhaustion.
had many problems in Russia. Our
equipment was not designed for the rough
usage it got. Even simple items like
feedbags became a problem. Our Army
feedbags were made of canvas and were worn
out by that winter. The Army had set
higher supply priorities on items like food
and ammunition so they were not replaced.
We were forced to build wooden feed troughs
like you see in farms today. The only
problem with this was that it made it easier
for the horses to contract disease.
were fortunate that our horses were fairly
disease-free. That first winter, we
had horses get pneumonia, and these almost
always died if we couldn't send them back
that first winter. Horses need long
rest periods to recover. There was
another disease we called the Rotzkrankheit,
it affects the horse's breathing, and it was
a lucky thing it was rare because there was
nothing we could do for it; the horse died.
Some of the local Russian horses had this
disease and we were always very careful to
disinfect the stalls we occupied because it
was a contagious disease. Another
disease that we did have to treat is called
mange in English. We did have problems
with this disease, but luckily it was easily
treated, it is caused by ticks. We had
special chambers to treat the horses in at
our mobile horse hospital. The main
problem was with the pig-headed officers who
insisted on using sick or recovering horses.
If you keep a sick horse at the front he
will infect others. Horses are
actually very delicate creatures, despite
their large size.
the German Army really use that many horses?
(Laughs) Yes, they did. You
see, Hitler expanded the army in the 1930's
quicker than he could build modern vehicles
for transport. Hitler hated horses, he
wanted a modern, completely motorized army
like Britain had, but the army grew too
fast. Horses were readily available
and the people of Europe were more
accustomed to them than they were
automobiles, so the horses took up the
kind of horses did the Army use?
There were two main types: Kaltblüter,
and Warmblüter (cold-, and
warm-bloods). Warmblüter are
quick and agile; they are used for riding
horses. Kaltblüter are huge
and slow and gentle; they are draft animals,
we used them for heavy labor like hauling
artillery pieces. We used a great many
breeds, also. The East Prussian
warm-bloods were much tougher and resistant
to the cold and feed shortages than the
Hannover warm-bloods. As funny as it
sounds, the real large cold-bloods like
Rhinelanders and Belgian draft horses were
the most fragile. In Russia we would
use some of the small native horses called
Panje horses. They were actually a
large, shaggy pony. They were
incredibly hardy, they could eat the bark
off the logs in a Russian log hut and be
happy. The biggest problem was that
they were too small to drag heavy loads like
artillery guns or the German supply wagons.
They were normally used with the small
wooden wagons and sleds they were raised
for. You would see these horses and
wagons all over in the German Army.
also went to Normandy?
Yes, after I attended the Army
veterinary school at Hannover I went to
Normandy in the Fall of 1943. I was
attached to 7th Army, General Doctor Leitner
was the chief veterinary officer. It
was interesting in Normandy because the
Allies completely controlled the air; our
Army was restricted to moving by night to
escape the strafers. The only problem
is, that horses would prefer to sleep at
night, just like people. The drivers
would try and wake them up and the horses
would get cranky, they wanted to sleep!
After a while they got used to it.
that came back to France from the Russian
Front would bring all of their horses with
them, of course some of them were almost
done in. We would sell them to the
French civilians and buy new ones in special
horse markets. We generally wanted
four-year-olds, of course you had to be
careful with what you bought; it was a lot
like buying used cars, I suppose.
general, though, France was wonderful
country for horses. You would see
these units getting off the train, and the
only way they could get their poor horses
off was literally dragging them off the
ramps. Within a few days of being in
France, you could really see a difference in
those animals to keep until a week or so
after getting them in.
remember this one young man in our unit in
France, he was a farmer's son from
Pommerania, I think his name was Weckenmann
or Weckmann, or something like that.
He was a real nice kid who absolutely loved
the horses. He came to us from Russia,
and his nerves were shot. We were
responsible for evacuating wounded horses,
and when these animals would come through
wounded, he would break down and cry.
He became absolutely useless. We
decided to send him back to Germany and he
was killed by strafers just as the train
left the station. He was going back
with a load of horses, and rather than
jumping off the train like everyone else he
went to the horses.
were horses fed?
Many people do not know that a horse
needs a lot of food to keep going. A Kaltblüter
needs about 10 kilos (20 lbs) of food a day!
Why is this so important, you may ask; why
not just let them eat grass from the fields?
If a horse is going to eat grass for energy,
he must eat grass for between 6 and 8 hours
a day. This does not leave any time
for work, does it?
standard meal consisted of a pressed cake of
hay, straw, potato shavings, bread yeast,
but mostly oats. This was the issue
food, we often got the horses feed from the
local farms. In Russia this was a
problem because there was nothing to be had.
In France, there was plenty, but we had to
inspect the fodder carefully for the French
would add stuff to the fodder and give our
you say that you were in Stalingrad?
No, I said my unit, the 305th Division,
was in Stalingrad. Most of the
divisional horses and veterinary units were
pulled out before the place was cut off.
I wasn't there, Gott sei Dank!
about your uniform, what was it like?
We got the same uniform as everyone
else. The color on our shoulder straps
and caps was carmine red, that was the color
of the veterinary service. It was also
the color for General Staff officers.
The joke was that this was done on purpose,
that they had to match for parades, since
when the officer rode his horse, the vet
would be right behind picking up PferdekartoffeinI.
Actually, my uniform was quite pretty, I was
an Unterveterinär. I had
almost as much silver as an officer as an
officer. I could wear an officer's
you issued a weapon?
I had a Belgian pistol that I bought in
Stuttgart before I went to the Russian
Front. And I was expected to know how
to use a rifle. Everyone in the German
Army were expected to be a fighting soldier,
even the bakers. In Russia, you never
knew when the Red Army would appear and to
them it did not matter whether you were a
paratrooper, veterinarian, or chaplain; they
shot at anyone in a German uniform.
I had the same gear that everyone else
had: a canteen called a Feldflasche, a mess
kit, and a haversack for rations called a
Brotbeutel. You were supposed to wear
all this stuff on your belt but I did not; I
hung mine from the back of the wagon that
carried our veterinary instruments. We
also had a knapsack that we called a
"monkey", it was covered with
brown fur and was supposed to ride on your
shoulders, so we called them monkeys.
I didn't wear mine, though, I put it on the
did you get along with the other services?
Not too bad, except with the SS and the
Party clowns. Some of the cops gave us
a hard time, but because they thought I was
an officer, normally they left me alone.
The SS would strut around and bump you right
out of the way if you did not move aside,
they called us Hilfsvölker, which
means something like "helper
tribe." That is, until they
needed us. Once, I sat with an SS
officer on a train from Hannover to
Magdeburg, he was stationed at the SS
training unit at Goslar, which was not too
far from where I was stationed. He was
arrogant and condescending, I remember
thinking: "when will this trip be
over?" He would ask me a question
and then use my answer to insult me.
We exchanged names and stations, and I threw
his away when I got off the train.
Then, a few months later, he calls me up, he
wants a favor. He wanted special shoes
put on his horse, and wanted me to have it
done for him. Now he was so friendly,
the veterinarian service was wonderful, and
the SS farriers were clods, they didn't know
anything about horses. Imagine that.
The SS was always short on technical
specialists. I think there was a big
SS school at Göttingen, I wonder why he
didn't call them.
we would be asked to work on a dog, but the
veterinary corps was for horses. There
were some peacetime vets in the army, and
they would sometimes work on dogs. It
wasn't something that I knew about.
you win any decorations?
The medal for the Eastern Front,
everyone who was there in that winter of
1941-1942 got one. Also, I got the Kriegsverdienstkreuz
for service during that winter. These
were both very common awards, I was no hero.
My only concern was for the horses.
you ever in combat?
Oh yes, but for me it was a rare event,
I was normally behind the lines. Once
a Russian tank drove into our horse
collection station, that was terrible.
It got stuck in the creek we were set up
near, and the crew just jumped out and tried
to run away. They ran over into a
truck repair park where the mechanics killed
them with their rifles. The resistance
attacked us once in France, too, but that
was over before I had time to get afraid.
happened to you at the end of the war?
After the collapse in France, I went to Remonteamt
near Hannover. This place supplied
horses for the Army. I was there until
the allies came. I didn't want to go
to a prisoner camp, so I put on civilian
clothes and tried to get through the lines.
I pretended to be a Czech laborer who did
not speak much German, I almost got home.
The Americans picked me up near Hof Germany,
I told them my papers were lost. They
did not believe me. Then this real
Czech in an American uniform comes in and
talks to me for a little while. Then
he says... "You are Nemek
(German). Who are you? Are you
SS?" He knew my accent and I
still had my army shoes on. I went to
a POW camp near Nuremberg, then to Alsace.
I got out in 1947, but did not go back to
Czechoslovakia. The Czechs kicked my
family out. But that is another story.