The Time Germany Kidnapped Hundreds of Stallions in an Attempt to Breed a Super-Horse

iStock.com/Somogyvari
iStock.com/Somogyvari

During World War II, the Nazis invaded foreign countries and stole millions of dollars' worth of priceless valuables, from jewelry to famous works of art. The attempts to recover those stolen treasures have been documented countless times (George Clooney's 2014 film The Monuments Men—and the 2009 book it was based on—among them). Lesser known, however, is the Nazi program to kidnap a treasure of a different kind: hundreds of the world's most prized horses.

It's all because Hitler wanted to create a "super horse." Just as Nazi ideology peddled pseudo-science regarding breeding a human "master race," Hitler also believed he could selectively breed horses to create the finest, bravest, and "purest" warhorses in world military history. This decision was not some extracurricular pipe dream of the Führer, but a deliberate response to the country's poor fortunes during World War I. As Elizabeth Letts writes in her fantastic book The Perfect Horse, Germany's equine industry took a shellacking during the so-called Great War, and Hitler wanted to return the country to its former glory:

"After World War I, several factors combined to almost destroy horse breeding and equestrian sports in Germany. The numbers of equine casualties were so high during the war that the horse population declined by half. In addition, the inflationary conditions in Germany made the sale and upkeep of horses difficult, and to further complicate matters, Germany was required to export horses as part of the reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles."

To say the least, when Germany went to war two decades later, horses were very much on Hitler's mind. And despite the country's strong industrial output and recent advances in technology, German leaders genuinely believed they needed more horses for the war effort. (Letts writes that by 1938, their army was using more than 180,000 horses and donkeys—and Hitler was convinced that he needed even more.)

For the task of breeding this assembly line of horses—as well as for creating a perfectly pure "super breed"—Hitler chose Gustav Rau, a hippologist who had spent years tirelessly promoting Germany's horse-breeding industry. To do so, Rau set his eyes on the famous Lipizzaner stallion, a beautiful and regal breed known for its dexterity and fairy-tale looks. Rau believed he could create legions of identical, pure white military horses through aggressive inbreeding of Lipizzaners in just three years, writing, "We have to promote inbreeding of the best bloodlines." (Rau clearly did not understand the link between genetic defects and inbreeding.)

To aid Rau's mission, German soldiers began stealing purebred Lipizzaner stallions from famed stud farms and riding schools across Europe. These kidnapped horses were transported in style, placed in spacious train cars and taken to beautiful, well-kept farms in the countryside. "It was a quirk of Nazi philosophy, so inhumane to humans, that animals were treated with the utmost care and kindness," Letts writes. By 1942, Rau was in possession of nearly every purebred Lipizzaner in the world.

But when the tides of war began turning against Germany, a Nazi veterinarian at a Nazi stud farm in occupied Czechoslovakia began to fear for the horses's lives. The Russians, who regularly slaughtered and ate enemy horses, were moving in. According to the New York Post, the Russians showed no sympathy for or interest in famed stallions, reporting that, "the fabled thoroughbred racehorse Alchimist was shot to death by marauding Russian soldiers in the spring of 1945 when the stallion refused to load onto their truck." The veterinarian, named Rudolf Lessing, feared that the rare Lipizzaners under his watch would be next.

So Lessing did the unthinkable—he reached out to the Americans and asked for help. He wanted them to steal the horses back.

When word reached General George Patton that the stallions were stuck deep behind enemy lines in Czechoslovakia, he sent the cavalry to save them. "Get them," Patton told his men. "Make it fast." (The mission was to be secret because, as the Express reports, "The U.S. Army had agreed with Stalin to advance no further than Germany's border with Czechoslovakia and the horses lay miles beyond.")

With help from Lessing, the commanding officer of the Second Cavalry in Europe, Hank Reed, negotiated a surrender with the occupied horse farm and placed the animals under the American military's watch. In autumn of 1945, 151 horses were loaded onto a boat and taken to America—all of them survived.

"We were so tired of death and destruction," Reed said when asked about the mission to save the horses. "We wanted to do something beautiful."

To learn more, Mental Floss recommends Elizabeth Letts' best-selling book, The Perfect Horse.

For the First Time Ever, a Mammal Has Been Declared Extinct Due to Climate Change

The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
The Whitsunday Islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
iStock.com/4FR

An Australian rat-like rodent called the Bramble Cay melomys is the first known mammal wiped out by manmade climate change, The Hill reports. The now-extinct animal (Melomys rubicola) lived on the tiny, uninhabited island of Bramble Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite exhaustive efforts to track down the melomys over seven years, no signs of the rodent could be found, and in 2016, Queensland’s state government declared the animal extinct.

These fears were confirmed when news broke this week that the national government had quietly changed the rodent’s classification from endangered to extinct. Meanwhile, the status of a fruit bat called the spectacled flying-fox was changed from vulnerable to endangered after a recent heatwave in north Queensland, which dealt another blow to a population that had already been cut in half over the last decade.

As for the Bramble Cay melomys, its demise can be attributed to rising sea levels, storm surges, and other weather events that have worsened due to climate change. According to The Revelator, the tides destroyed about 97 percent of the island’s vegetation, which was the rodent’s only food source.

Leeanne Enoch, Queensland's Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the latest animal extinction is evidence “we are living the real effects of climate change right now.”

In a 2018 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, researchers found that up to half of the 80,000 plant and animal species that reside in 35 of the world’s most diverse areas could become extinct by the turn of the century because of climate change.

For some species, it’s already too late. A Hawaiian bird called the poo-uli (or black-faced honeycreeper) was declared extinct last year, largely due to diseases carried by mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer climates. For other endangered species in the U.S.—like the black-footed ferret, red wolf, and rusty patched bumble bee—there might still be time to step in and protect them.

[h/t The Hill]

A Fort Hood Mule With 12 Years of Army Experience Is Looking for a Forever Home

iStock.com/PamWalker68
iStock.com/PamWalker68

Attention, animal lovers: A mule in Fort Hood, Texas with more than a decade of U.S. Army experience is up for adoption. Tina the Army mule has been a part of the Fort Hood military base's 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment for most of her life, and now KWTX reports that she needs a place to spend her retirement.

Foaled in 1999, the Fort Hood 1st Cavalry adopted Tina in 2006. Since then, she has assisted in parades, weapons demonstrations, cavalry charges, and color guards for the division. She has experience pulling an M1878 Escort wagon in a harness as well as standing by calmly for ceremonies.

She worked as a draft mule until 2018, and now that she's retiring, Fort Hood officials are looking to find her a forever home. Tina has no health problems or dietary restrictions and enjoys eating Coastal Bermuda hay and pasture grass. Her sister Dolly, who died of bone cancer in 2018, was the only mule she's ever been paired with. Though Tina can perform light solo work, her new owners should be cautious about pairing her with another mule.

If you're interested in making Tina a part of your family, Fort Hood would like to hear from you. You can contact the current owners by emailing your request along with any questions to 1CDHorseCavalryDetachment@gmail.com by March 7. Once your inquiry is received, you'll be sent an application packet with instructions on how to proceed.

[h/t KWTX]

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