When we pay tribute to the magnificent valour of Soviet Russia's fighting men, let us not forget the horses -yes, and the dogs, too- without whom the battle could not have been sustained, and who, like their masters, have had to pay a heavy price in death, mutilation and just plain suffering.
Russia has millions of horses in service with the Red Army; without them, in spite of the railways and the immense number of motor vehicles, it would be impossible to maintain the constant stream of supplies to the millions of men holding the millions-of-miles-long front. Hundreds of thousands are actually in the firing line, hauling guns and ammunition wagons; great numbers more are harnessed to ambulances and supply vehicles. Then, of course, there is the Russian cavalry - in particular the famous Cossacks, who in this war, as in all wars in centuries past, have had a notable part to play.
The Russians are using dogs, too, on a larger scale, it would seem, than is the case with the British Army or with the Nazis. They have many jobs, but a new task which has been demanded of them is the dragging back from the battlefield of wounded Soviet soldiers after these have been placed on little sledges by the first-aid men. Alsatians are chiefly used for this job, but Airedales have been found capable, and many of the larger mongrels are also employed because of their usual intelligence. For this work, the dogs not only have to be strong, but swift moving, since with the temperatures far below freezing-point the wounded man's life may well depend on the speed with which he is dragged back on his little sledge to the dressing station. It is interesting to learn that few of these Red Cross dogs have been wounded, probably because they move so close to the ground.
Casualties among the horses, however, have been (as might be expected) very large. Not only have numbers of them been killed on the field of battle, but many more have been wounded, while all must have suffered terribly during the winter. Day after day they have had to labour deep in snow or mud, dragging heavy loads across country which has been reduced by shell-fire to a quagmire; some may have been acclimatised to the bitter cold, but those who have been drawn from the warmer districts of the Soviet Union must have suffered indescribably. Yet it is good to know that the Red Army men have done all in their power to alleviate the lot of their horses; and from all reports the Russian Army Veterinary Service is highly efficient.
Recently Reuter's Special Correspondent in Moscow made a trip to the frontal zone with a view to investigating the Russian treatment of their horses, both cavalry and transport animals; and on the whole his report will be read with pleasure by animal-lovers - even though these can never be properly reconciled to becoming involved in all the devilries of man-made war. The Russian cavalry units, we learn, have their own veterinary surgeons, and every effort is made to save the wounded horses, if at all possible. Most of the veterinary treatment is given with the units themselves or in the immediate neighbourhood of the front; but the Red Army has also a service of lorries specially constructed to take three horses at a time, so that the more severely wounded can be conveyed to hospitals in the rear.
"The veterinary centre which I visited," writes Reuter's Correspondent, "is one of nine such in Moscow itself, and I was told my Mr. Alfiorov, Regional Inspector of Veterinary Services, who with the veterinary surgeon in charge showed me the various sections, that it was representative though not the best. It was devoted to surgical treatment, infectious cases being taken to special hospitals. The centre has an electrically-controlled operating table for horses, invented by a Russian professor, which stands vertical while the horse it strapped on, and slowly moves down, pulling the horse with it. It also has an X-ray department, and an artificial sunlight section in which I saw a horse receiving rays to speed up what had been a septic shoulder sore. There are also physicotherapy and clinical laboratories, and a permanent hospital department for nursing civilian horses and pets."
"When the Germans approached Moscow, the veterinary centres in the city were able to receive cases direct from the front, from such regions as Krasnaya Polyana, and a number of stables are still permanently kept open to receive cases of wounds needing surgical treatment. One horse brought in during the Moscow battle, after having been wounded in the field, belonged to a high officer who several times visited his mount. During the period of the bombings a number of horses were treated who were suffering from shell splinters and like injuries. No horses were lost."
"I spoke also with the official responsible for re-establishing veterinary services in the area of Moscow province regained from the Germans. I learned from him some of the difficulties of work in the regions burned out by the enemy. In some towns and villages, however, the enemy did not have the time to do all the damage they wished, and to such places the veterinary services had been transferred. From another veterinary surgeon I learned that about sixty per cent of the cases of injury to horses are to the legs, fairly frequently various types of inflammation being diagnosed. When I asked whether lameness in horses at the front was treated locally I was told that this is impossible, as lameness was regarded by the Soviet veterinary services as a serious matter, and such cases were usually sent to the rear for diagnosis. I carried away from my visit an impression, gathered from these experts, that the services they represented were fully aware of the value of the work which the horse is doing for the Soviet Union, and that their work was to some extent linked up with the normal services of inspection of State-owned animals."
But although the Russian veterinary services are large and admirably equipped, the prolonged and terrible battles of the last year have made grave inroads on their strength. Veterinary supplies are by no means inexhaustible and, indeed, in some departments they are running short. When this was realised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals resolved to do what it could, and through its War Animals (Allies) Fund it has supplied the Russian Veterinary Corps with considerable quantities of equipment. Most of the veterinary supplies send consists of drugs and dressings, but the consignments have also included veterinary surgeons' wallets; veterinary officers' field chests, complete with instruments and drugs; syringes, X-ray outfits, anaesthetics, breathing tubes for horses, etc. The wallets and field chests are particularly welcome, since they are used by the mobile veterinary workers on the actual battlefield; but the R.S.P.C.A. is hoping to raise sufficient funds to permit the establishment of permanent veterinary hospitals in the interior, where the more seriously wounded animals can be given attention and rest.
These hospitals must be fitted with sling harnesses for wounded horses and up-to-date X-ray apparatus, and although many such hospitals are already in existence, many more are needed. To help provide them is a form of war effort which should be sure of a ready response from Britain's animal-lovers.